By Jessica W.
Historical romance can be somewhat limited in where the romance happens. Is it this ballroom or that ballroom? Rotten Row or a country house party? In the public eye, rules can’t be broken. But in the gambling clubs and hells of London, the rules of society take a second place to the rules of chance. When a hero or heroine is no stranger to Lady Luck, their willingness to risk it all can pay off in love.
Sarah MacLean just released the final book of her Rule of Scoundrels quartet, Never Judge A Lady By Her Cover. While it’s a wonderful finale, it really is best appreciated after you’ve read the first three. The series begins with A Rogue By Any Other Name, the story of the Marquess of Bourne and the very proper Lady Penelope. Bourne is a societal outcast with only his title, but has made his way as a co-owner of the most notorious gambling club in London, The Fallen Angel. Penelope has everything he does not: society’s acceptance, and piles of money. He plans their marriage as one of pure convenience for him, but Penelope has other plans, starting with exploring the forbidden pleasures offered at the Angel.
Lisa Kleypas’s The Devil In Winter is the third in her Wallflowers quartet, the stories of four outcast debutantes in London—two “new money” Americans, and two almost-on-the-shelf Brits who’ve bonded over their seasons on the wall. Saint Vincent, the villain of the first in the quartet, is now the hero, the man a desperate woman turns to in order to save herself and her inheritance. But the inheritance isn’t just money, it’s the gambling club her father started and nurtured into success. Her mother’s unscrupulous family intends to marry her off to a cruel cousin, and in exchange for saving her, she promises Saint Vincent a society-sanctioned marriage and co-ownership of the club, with one caveat: he must refrain from bedding any women, including herself, for three months.
Widows have all the fun in Regencies, and Suzanne Enoch’s A Beginner’s Guide to Rakes proves it. When Diane Benchley announces her intention to open a gambling club in her family mansion, society is shocked. But in order to get it started, she blackmails the Marquis of Haybury, threatening to reveal his secrets. As in any good romance, this is where the fun starts. This is the first in Enoch’s Scandalous Brides series.
No discussion of historical gamblers would be complete without Georgette Heyer. Heyer is the queen of the Regency romance, despite her works being upwards of forty years old (some date back to 1921!). Her unmatched eye for historical detail and banter make these a joy to read, and are ideal for readers who want to read romances for the emotional journey without explicit physicality. She was clearly influenced by Jane Austen, writing funny, charming, and smart heroines who know the strictures of society and then work to get what they want anyway. In Faro’s Daughter, Deborah Grantham runs her aunt’s gaming hall. Max Ravenscar is convinced she is planning to seduce his ward into an inappropriate marriage in order to access his wealth. Outraged by the idea, Deborah becomes determined to take revenge upon Ravenscar, but her plans turn out differently.