The Rogue of Fifth Avenue by Joanna Shupe
Rating: ★★★☆ ☆
Keeper of secrets.
Breaker of hearts.
He can solve any problem…
In serving the wealthy power brokers of New York society, Frank Tripp has finally gained the respectability and security his own upbringing lacked. There’s no issue he cannot fix…except for one: the beautiful and reckless daughter of an important client who doesn’t seem to understand the word danger.
She’s not looking for a hero…
Excitement lay just below Forty-Second Street and Mamie Greene is determined to explore all of it—while playing a modern-day Robin Hood along the way. What she doesn’t need is her father’s lawyer dogging her every step and threatening her efforts to help struggling families in the tenements.
However, she doesn’t count on Frank’s persistence…or the sparks that fly between them. When fate upends all her plans, Mamie must decide if she’s willing to risk it all on a rogue…
Trigger Warning for abuse and sexual assault: There is abuse in this book but nothing explicit. Mostly discussions of victims remembering abuse with some minor details involving physical abuse. Also, a warning for sexual assault. The scene is played out and it is a big warning for sexual assault survivors. Pages where assault occurs: 304-306.
This book tries to move the historical genre in a new direction. It’s doing things a thousand other historical romance authors aren’t doing. There is not a glimmer of dukes anywhere in this book. You wouldn’t think I would have to say that. It’s nice to be able to say that. I am tired of looking for a new romance author and being slapped in the face with: dukedukedukedukeduke duke duke duke duke.
• not set in England
• the hero grew up working class
• wealth is not a priority for the heroine
• the heroine is sexually confident (she takes charge in the bedroom)
• it villainizes privileged white people (FUCK YES)
I really miss reading romances where the hero truly agonizes over how much he likes the heroine. The hero is not absent of asshole moments, but I just really love a hero where you get to a certain point in the book and the hero just cannot fucking do it anymore. He is just so miserable for Mamie. Like, can’t breathe, can’t think, can’t see straight type of crush. I love it when their sanity just flies out the door. Fuck their privilege. Fuck their connections. Fuck all sense of propriety because the heroine is more important to him than anything else.
I get so tired of women’s mistreatment in this world. I watch it every day. I have lived it, my mother lived it, and my grandmother lived it. I watch the marches. I watch my government say and do horrendous things every day. It’s nice to see a hero just break apart and worship a woman for once.
Then the side of her mouth hitched and she crooked a finger, beckoning him.
In Shupe’s Gilded Age, the heroine lives in a world where she’s expected to sacrifice her happiness for her father. She is to be the contract between her family and another ‘blue-blood’ family. She is the cement that will bond these 2 powerful families. Every day she helps families in the Five Points (an impoverished district in New York City). Like a Robin Hood in a glamorous dress and a flick of a finger down a white rich man’s pants, she steals money and gives it to those in need. When one of those families needs a lawyer, Mamie asks Frank Tripp for help.
Yes, dear reader. She can fall in love and be an activist!
The weight of this book is heavier than most historical romances. It uses what women are currently going through today to show how women have always resisted. I know it’s difficult to realize this has been going on for a very long time. Yet it also reminds me of how amazing women are. It is not because of men we’ve gained feminist ideals and political involvement. It is because of women. I won’t praise white women of this period too much because the fault of the suffragettes is their history with white supremacists and segregationist beliefs. Our heroine recognizes the privileges she has and acknowledges the exclusivity of her white world vs the diversity of Five Points. In that regard, I believe she separates herself from the racist suffragettes.
Shupe creates the overwhelming amount of resistance around the heroine to gleam the fucking miracle that is women’s resistance. This book is not a feminist utopia but a critique on our misogynistic world. I think there’s room for these types of books in romance. I know there are readers that want to see a dark world so they can know there’s light at the end of that tunnel. What separates this book from all the rest is that the heroine wins.
This book centers women helping women. It is a woman convincing a man to help a woman who protected her children from an abusive husband. I grew up in an abusive home. I appreciated how Shupe understood not to overplay the most obvious parts of abuse but to add lesser known things about abuse. For example, a mother protecting her abusive husband’s character rather than protecting her own children. This is the result of normalized abusive behavior in the home. Abuse and love become one of the difficulties of abuse survivors realities. The triggers abuse survivors experience in daily life felt very real to me. Not trusting people is a big thing for us. None of this is a spoiler. All of this is known to the reader very early on the book.
I sympathized with the hero a lot. Growing up in an abusive home makes it hard to trust people. Even little things. I don’t speak a lot to people about growing up in an abusive home. The only place I share my experience of abuse is online. It’s the one place I feel safe from that look that people get in their eyes when I tell them about my childhood. I’ve known what is like for people not to believe me and it hurts. A lot. This is why I don’t blame the hero for not telling people, even those he loves, about who he is. Some of the people that didn’t believe me were people I loved. I get relationships are based on trust but abuse survivors need more reassurance than the average person. We need more time to trust someone. Love might seem like it could be enough but it’s not.
I also love that this book is basically a feminist Romeo and Juliet but set in the Gilded Age. Mamie is absolutely Juliet:
• sexually confident
• white rich lady from a prominent family
• resists men deciding her fate for her
• takes charge of her body to resist her father’s control over her
• lives in a time when women had little to no rights
• star-crossed lovers
Frank, that honorable villain:
• a charmer
• a fuckboy except when the heroine comes along
• thinks he seduces the heroine when it’s really her seducing him
• totally and absolutely loses it every time he sees the heroine.
Just a little background on how similar Shupe’s book is to Shakespeare’s Juliet and her Romeo:
“Give me my Romeo, and when I shall die
Take him and cut him out in little stars,
And he will make the face of heaven so fine
That all the world will be in love with night
And pay no worship to the garish sun”
(Romeo and Juliet)
Juliet absolutely has the hots for Romeo. ‘Die’ is not death. She’s talking about orgasms.. The girl has major horny pants. Some big star explosions in her vagina. I am SO good with words.
Juliet’s sexual desire is erased by men. Mamie’s is not. She is very forward with her desires. She is no hesitant miss, shying away from sex. Shupe reminds us that a woman’s right to be sex positive is not exclusive to modern day.
Shupe’s romance is a feminist reworking of a misogynistic text (albeit with a feminist character). Juliet never fell in love with Romeo. He merely became a convenience for her. I can’t think of their story as love. It doesn’t act as love but as lust, where the only escape Juliet can find from the tyranny of her father is in sex, and ultimately in death. That is the reality of her world. Not a feminist world. One where misogyny reigns and women never win. Juliet says to Romeo she is the falconer and he is the falcon. She lures him to her window and Romeo allows her to have control in a world that allows women none.
I would have thee gone,
And yet no farther than a wanton’s bird,
That lets it hop a little from his hand,
Like a poor prisoner in his twisted gyves,
And with a silken thread plucks it back again,
So loving-jealous of his liberty.
Just like Romeo, Frank agonizes over Mamie. The story of Romeo and Juliet is interpreted as a romance. You know when people describe their romance with their partners like Romeo and Juliet, completely unaware that they die? Stupid shit like that.
Romeo and Juliet is a story of power and lust. All their conversations are about how hot they are for each other. Romeo consistently describes Juliet as the sun; a thing of fire. In Renaissance speak, she’s fucking hot. It’s the 17th century so it’s not like women could freely talk about wanting to be free of the patriarchy and have hot sex at the same time. Shupe made her own Romeo and Juliet story into a feminist one. Instead of a tragic end, she gives us an ending where a woman succeeds in gaining autonomy and a happy ending with someone she chooses to love. Juliet gets another life. A life where she gets to win.
I’m going to talk about abuse and sexual assault. I would normally keep spoilers hidden but considering these are trigger warnings for survivors I don’t believe that would be the right thing to do. If we’re talking about the plot moving along as the result of these things than it is necessary for survivors to be warned. The spoilers are not huge. They mostly involve Mamie’s father reacting to sexual assault. His reaction leads to some development on his part.
The circumstances of his redemption are understandable. It just didn’t have enough or any development for me to suspend disbelief. For most of the book he’s telling her how she’s his to marry off to whomever he chooses. I get why he changes his mind. It’s just the amount misogyny coming from him before this makes it extremely hard for me to believe in his development. Even with the circumstance being sexual assault, it doesn’t work for me. If the intent is to redeem her father, I would need a lot more chapters to get on board. I needed him to do things in a grander scale so those actions could match his mistreatment of his daughter.
Beyond that, I really dislike the use of sexual assault as a tool to make misogynists realize their mistakes. There is room to discuss sexual assault in the romance community. But, using sexual violence against women to convince men to stand up for women makes me angry. I do like the idea of seeing men stand up for women. I appreciated how abuse became a discussion in the book. But…. the scene of sexual assault was not a discussion. It is an act done to the heroine. While she saves herself, it still left a bad taste in my mouth. Having men develop and work through their prejudices outside of violence would have been a more interesting take. While I like that the injustice done to her does not go unpunished, it did not have to be there. There are better ways of getting the plot to move forward.