Reputation by Lex Croucher
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
A Wise & Wild Romp
If you love a good “mean girls” trope with a great redemption story, then this is the book for you. If you can’t stand the idea of a historical romance heroine smoking pot or coming home drunk after unchaperoned outings, you might want to pass. Reputation is well-written, exceedingly wise in parts, and highly-entertaining (I read it almost in one sitting and I have two toddlers, so that’s saying something), but I don’t believe historical accuracy is one of its primary goals–which is absolutely fine. It’s a fantastic story nonetheless.
Reputation is Mean Girls meets Emma meets Bridgerton with a lot more wine chugging and imbibing of psychedelic substances. But it is not lacking in other kinds of substance. Croucher has a great read on human character. Her characters are captivating, fully-realized individuals, full of flaws and grit.
“She had a very particular way of smiling that seemed almost entirely sincere but threatened to transform into a smirk at any moment; her eyes often sparkled with a barely concealed mirth that did not quite match the situation, and it gave Georgiana the impression that she was always enjoying a private joke that belonged only to her.”
Frances Campbell is the “Emma” of the piece–a biracial young lady of wealth and fortune whose privileged position is somewhat belied by the fact that her father violently resents her mother for having had the misfortune of being a person-of-color who he fell in love with and chose to marry in his youth. To make up for her unhappiness with her home life and herself, Frances indulges in any kind of behavior she wishes, rightly assuming (at least in this fantasy Regency world) that she will be able to get away with just about anything thanks to her monied status.
Georgiana Ellers is the Harriet of the story–a much more fully-rounded Harriet than we get in Emma, however. Georgiana is desperate to be drawn out of her staid existence, feels equally apathetic towards her own parents who have ditched her with her (extremely kind and loving) aunt and uncle, and loses any moral commonsense she initially possesses quite quickly the more time she spends in Frances’ company. She also quickly finds her own human kindness disintegrating as she associates with a clique of jaded debutantes who enjoy making sport of the misery of others (to varying degrees).
Georgiana is horrified when she finally realizes how far she has sunk and extricates herself in a melodramatic climax that is very “Me Too.”
There is something YA about Reputation, but it is such a well-written, clever piece of fiction that being YA is no disparagement. I would not classify it as straight historical romance or even romance. It’s more “womance” than “romance” as the relationship between Georgiana and Frances as well as the relationships between Georgiana and Frances’ clique takes centerstage for most of the book.
However, there is a hero (also biracial, though this was passed over almost entirely until the end of the novel that I almost missed it) who is flavored liberally with the shades of Mr. Darcy and a spoonful of Mr. Knightley–thus ensuring the reader’s quick attachment. The love story that blooms between Thomas and Georgiana, while underplayed, is very satisfying.
Thanks to Netgalley for the early review copy!
Steam Level: 0/5
Other TW Content: Drug use, alcohol use, mention of sexual assault, attempted sexual assault
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Reputation by Lex Croucher