Brazen and the Beast by Sarah MacLean
The Lady’s Plan
When Lady Henrietta Sedley declares her twenty-ninth year her own, she has plans to inherit her father’s business, to make her own fortune, and to live her own life. But first, she intends to experience a taste of the pleasure she’ll forgo as a confirmed spinster. Everything is going perfectly… until she discovers the most beautiful man she’s ever seen tied up in her carriage and threatening to ruin the Year of Hattie before it’s even begun.
The Bastard’s Proposal
When he wakes in a carriage at Hattie’s feet, Whit, a king of Covent Garden known to all the world as Beast, can’t help but wonder about the strange woman who frees him—especially when he discovers she’s headed for a night of pleasure… on his turf. He is more than happy to offer Hattie all she desires… for a price.
An Unexpected Passion
Soon, Hattie and Whit find themselves rivals in business and pleasure. She won’t give up her plans; he won’t give up his power… and neither of them sees that if they’re not careful, they’ll have no choice but to give up everything… including their hearts.
I’m going to get real here. The romance genre has a lot of good things going for it, but it’s also got a fucked up history concerning misogynistic tropes and just blatant white supremacy. The romance genre uplifted patriarchal notions that the heroine must be better than all other women. She must be placed on a pedestal, an example of a superior type of woman (basically white, thin, and maybe she allows the hero to walk all over her without a flying fuck). She’s moral, self-less, self-sacrificing for the hero, beautiful but plain, the best sex the hero’s ever had but a virgin, a delicate fucking virgin, so virginal she can’t imagine what is in those pants, more intelligent than all those vain girls and different. So different from all the other girls. Thin but just enough curves to set the hero’s dick on fire. It all sums up to ‘oh well never mind she just needed a new dress’. Of course, she’s beautiful. She just lacked some fashion sense. Thank god they figured it out.
The problem with that isn’t with traditionally beautiful girls, it’s that in order to attain beauty you have to be transformed into the type of beauty society recognizes. And for fat girls…. that doesn’t feel so great.
I grew up with my mother leaving herself notes of how fat she is. She would tell me it was to remind herself to lose weight. I absorbed that type of thinking into the way I look at my body. I’ve been on the thinner side a few times in my life, but for the most part I’ve been plus size. When your society is constantly telling you what’s wrong with you how you look, it eats at you. I love the romance genre but there’s so many toxic narratives that we still need to get through.
There are no fat girls in the 19th century…. or romance authors just don’t want to write about them. These descriptors for the perfect but imperfect heroine authors described as feminist is the reason the genre still has so many misogynistic reviewers critiquing any heroine for every little thing.
Never mind that the hero is emotionally abusive because she’s the problem. She’s selfish, shrewish, a virgin, too sexually confident, she said fuck, she didn’t listen to the hero, she put herself in danger, she’s a Mary Sue, she’s TSTL, I want to choke her to death…..and the misogyny continues.
Sarah Maclean takes misogynistic perceptions of the genre to write Hattie: plus sized, not in the least interested in marriage, confident, calls her best friend beautiful without an an ounce of competitive jealousy, calls the hero out on his shit, isn’t willing to sacrifice her ambition to run her father’s company for anyone, and a god damn glorious feminist for the ages.
In Maclean’s novel, the heroine isn’t able to magically be seen as a society beauty. She is told to her face that her body makes her unattractive. Maclean doesn’t play this out. She doesn’t use her trauma as a hammer for the reader. It’s just part of her. She knows that she can’t just have a makeover and be considered beautiful by the Ton.
For most romance novelists of the past, the dream is society recognizing the heroine’s beauty. But Hattie isn’t just a little plump, she’s a plus size girl. The fantasy of society finally realizing she’s beautiful because the Duke chose her is never going to be a reality for her. She doesn’t need titled idiots to tell her she’s awesome (because she absolutely is, and she knows it). But being a plus size girl means she’s had some traumatic experiences. As any plus size girl can attest (including myself), the snubs and the little comments here and there chisel down your ability to be confident with your body. Maclean does not transform Hattie into an idealized beauty.
Maclean transforms plus size body types from the unseen and into a seen beauty.
Hattie Reminds me of Diana Sirokai (the gorgeous woman above), a plus sized model and activist. In an interview, Diana expressed her insecurity as a plus size woman on Instagram, “All I could see were these amazing bodies that we idolize, and I felt like I couldn’t post in bikinis because I don’t look like that.” Diana is known for juxtaposing plus size women next to fashion ads. She used her fear of criticism to create a positive space where plus size girls are loved and appreciated and SEEN.
Hattie does the same thing when she decides to make a deal with Beast to rid her of her virginity. She doesn’t feel comfortable with how other people view her body but she’s putting herself out there anyway.
Maclean is going against the misogynistic past of the romance genre. She’s also reworking misogynistic fairytales. Beauty and the Beast is formed into a modern feminist tale. In the original, Beauty is the daughter of a merchant, so is Hattie’s father.
Sidenote: Maclean is careful to show Hattie and her family are ethical businesspeople. Shipping, such as slavery, is explicitly mentioned as something her family stays far away from. This is 1838 but some English people still found ways to keep slavery alive. I’m glad this is mentioned because most white historical romance authors conveniently never mention slavery as being part of their world. Even though most of the peerage had been given a payout by the government because they owned slaves.
Unlike the original, Hattie does not pit other women against each other. Hattie does not become the better woman because all the other woman are bullies. In the original, the author uses idealized beauty to send the message that values become a reason for someone’s physical appearance. Beauty, the most beautiful of all her vain and selfish sisters, is fucking queen of all the bitches because she’s a soldier for the patriarchy. In Maclean’s book, no guys are selling or bargaining any ladies off to a weird lonely guy in a tower. Any deals are between Hattie and Beast. Hattie knows what she wants, and Beast becomes the point of interest to achieve what she wants. He’s a stoic guy, a complete book nerd, and does the dirty talk real good.
So, a heroine walks into a brothel for ladies and meets a Beast. Beast is depicted as beautiful to dispel our preconceived notions of this fairytale. There is no transformation of either the hero or heroine’s physical appearance. Any transformation happens through learning from each other. They are two humans learning each other’s minds and bodies. The realization of self love comes from opening themselves up, not because love is magical but because other people can shoulder the burden of our pain.
The hero grew up in Covent Garden. His father came to bring him to his ducal seat to torture him with notions that he could become rich. He and his mother could escape poverty but only if he can use him to play a game with his half brothers. The endgame being the ducal seat.
Given he’s both experienced poverty and a madman for a father, Beast does not really know how to come to terms with the idea that he could have a life with Hattie. He doesn’t really think love is for him. That’s something he and Hattie learn from each other. How do you open yourself up to someone else, especially with someone who has a completely different experience than you?
The result is not a smooth ride. It sometimes means people make mistakes. Inviting the possibility that love could happen for them is like pulling teeth. I appreciate Maclean recognizes this slow process necessary for healing. Beast is never unkind to her (I’ve had difficulty with Maclean’s other heroes’ mistreatment of her heroines) but he does NOT know how to court the ladies. Beyond that, he has not had the privileges of titled heroes. Therefore, he is not going to behave like titled men would. Let’s just put it that way.
One of my favorite aspects of the original is the rose. But I like what Maclean writes in modernizing a classic. She’s doing really interesting things with appearance. I also believe she’s doing the same with objects of importance, like a rose or like a dagger. A dagger is exchanged for the famous rose in this tale.
Beast values the rose more than anything in the world. He loves the rose, but he also hates it because it means his end. The rose is his survival and his doom. Like the rose, Hattie is so entranced by the dagger that it becomes a thing of beauty. It is a thorn; a weapon. It is also the thing that weaves through the novel. It becomes valuable to the hero, beautiful to Hattie, and a way for the heroine to protect herself when she’s in danger. It is almost as if she is the personification of that dagger. It is beautiful but dangerous, much like the rose that could mean Beast’s death or protection in the fairytale.
Women are not used to uplift Hattie but to embrace Hattie. Rather it is the misogynistic society of the ton which makes her body Othered. Unlike the original, this Beauty is not praised as self-less or self-sacrificing for the hero. She prioritizes herself because she believes her desires should not be sacrificed in the name of love. She should be enough for love. Women should not have to sacrifice their careers for the man.
Instead of choosing Beauty to be patriarchy’s vision of selfless and all giving to the men in her life, Maclean chooses a heroine interested in making a better life for herself, no matter that she’s a woman in 1838.
Hattie embodies all the values the original storyteller warned against. Beauty being the one woman deserving of wealth and privilege came from fairytales and became a pillar of the romance heroine. Maclean shows a romance, a fairytale, where women attain autonomy and confidence without the stipulation they must be deserving of it. She takes the white supremacist and misogynistic fairytales the romance genre is so fond of and transforms it into a beautiful fairytale of feminist ideals. Wealth and titled circles do not become the HEA but a point of criticism.
Oh, and did I mention…there may or may not be a f/f ship going off in this book. All I’m saying is I want that book sometime in the future.
This is my favorite romance Sarah Maclean has ever written. It is sugar, spice, and absolutely fucks feminism into the romance genre so any attempt at misogyny dies. This book makes my little feminist heart feel like there’s hope.
image credit: Istock/Svetlana Kachurovskaia Lanpochka