Did you hear that? That’s the sound of Maya Rodale DROPPING THE MIC at this romance party, because What a Wallflower Wants is Just. That. Amazing.
I am beyond excited to be a Tasty Book Tour stop for the closing installment of Rodale’s Wallflower trilogy. In addition to a review in which I struggle to adequately convey the importance of this historical romance novel, I also have a wonderful excerpt to share with you AND a giveaway for a print copy of Rodale’s complete Bad Boys & Wallflowers series.
On to the excitement!
Never one to start at the beginning, the first Maya Rodale novel I picked up was the second installment in her Wallflower trilogy, Wallflower Gone Wild. It was witty and engaging, pushing all the right romance-buttons while sort of hinting at a deeper theme of second chances and shattering expectations. Because of this light-hearted introduction to Rodale’s writing, I thought I knew what to expect from What a Wallflower Wants. Yet weeks after reading this final Wallflower novel, I am still thinking about it, talking about it, and clearly, writing about it. In one powerful story Rodale has completely blown away my expectations for historical romance.
The story is a heavy one: For four years Prudence Merryweather Payton has carried the secret of her brutal rape by a peer and forsworn all hopes of love and marriage. With both of her wallflower friends now happily married, the date of her finishing school’s anniversary ball growing closer, and the never-ending societal pressure for a gently bred woman to marry, Prudence attempts a sham marriage as a way to save face. A chance encounter with a highwayman on the road to elopement sends her life into the orbit of John Roark, Viscount Castleton. For a woman who vowed never to trust a man again, his easy smile and gentle nature are far too tempting. For John, this beautiful, intriguing woman is just the kind of distraction he doesn’t need. He too has secrets, and his growing love for Prudence threatens to reveal them all.
The foundation for this love story is simple–two people with secret pasts, thrown together by a rain storm at a country inn–but the way that it plays out is stunning. The courtship between John and Prudence is not about John’s desire (although it’s there) or lust (although he feels it). It’s about Prudence realizing that she is a strong, amazing survivor. Rather than flatter her, John teaches her to fight. Instead of trying to charm her he encourages her to find her own pleasure. There’s no seduction here, only empowerment.
And trust me when I say empowerment is incredibly sexy.
What a Wallflower Wants breaks down traditional historical romance gender roles and makes their boundaries much more fluid. The ideal of manhood John embodies includes all the qualities that really matter: vulnerability, openness, and the desire to love a woman who can take care of herself. Prudence is fearful after suffering such a terrible sexual assault, but she is not broken. She is strong enough to build a life for herself that, although not ideal, allows her to possess some agency in a time when women often had none.
Through Prudence, Rodale calls out the harmful gender expectations that society continues to impose on women. Ladies aren’t angry. Ladies don’t yell. Ladies are biddable, agreeable, and never ever cause a scene. The rules for a 19th century lady sound remarkably like the kinds of qualities 21st century good girls are supposed to possess. Do be polite. Do be kind. Don’t be loud. Don’t be angry. Although it’s John who encourages Prudence to find her anger, he doesn’t allow her to get angry. Only Prudence has that power, and that makes all the difference in this novel.
Without giving too much away I will say that Rodale also highlights the intersections of gender and socioeconomic status, weaving together issues of class and sexism in a way that I rarely see a historical romance author do to such fine effect. In this regard Rodale joins ranks with Courtney Milan, who also isn’t afraid to bring discussions of race, class, and gender into deeply emotional romance.
Needless to say, What a Wallflower Wants left me completely floored. Yes, there is love. Yes, there is romance. And goodness, yes, there are some fantastically sexy scenes to enjoy. But there’s also a commentary on what we as a society continue to expect from women and girls and just how harmful those seemingly innocuous expectations can be.
Rating: ALL THE STARS! ALL THE “A”s! ALL THE PLUSES! Read it now, please. You’ll be glad you did.
This man’s face, with his blue eyes and easy smile, made her think of once upon a time. Once upon a time when she still believed in heroes that saved the day. Once upon a time, when she still believed that somewhere, out there, was a man who would love her. Once upon a time, when a young girl’s dreams came true and happily-ever-after was just within reach. That was a long time ago. These days, Prudence knew better. She knew that wolves wore rogue’s clothing and they had a taste for young ladies. “Good afternoon,” he said with a tip of his hat and a smile that revealed a slight dimple in his left cheek. He was entirely handsome, from his slightly unruly brown hair down to the tips of his shiny black boots. And he was smiling at her in a way that made her feel like fireworks inside: hot, shimmering, sparkling explosions that left her breathless and entranced. Prudence managed a tight smile, wanting to be polite but not encouraging. She was quite aware of the fact that they were alone on a desolate country road. “Would you care for a ride, miss? I’d be happy to oblige,” he offered. Of course she wanted a ride somewhere. At the moment, she wanted nothing more than to sit on the upholstered carriage bench, under the shade of the carriage top. She wanted to set down her bag and sigh with relief. She wanted to sit beside this impossibly handsome man and gaze up at his blue eyes and think about falling in love rather than being accosted and left for dead, or worse.
She knew about worse.
About Maya Rodale
Maya Rodale began reading romance novels in college at her mother’s insistence and it wasn’t long before she was writing her own. Maya is now the author of multiple Regency historical romances. She lives in New York City with her darling dog and a rogue of her own.
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