Oct 25 2011 4:14pm

A Working-Class Hero Raises the Stakes in Historicals

Too Wicked to Wed by Cara ElliottToo Wicked to Wed, out today, is the first book in Cara Elliott’s new series, the Lords of Midnight. Its hero is the owner of a gambling den and brothel, which got us to thinking about our recent post It’s Hard Out There for a Mage: Professions in Urban Fantasy, and what professions are frequent for heroes and heroines in historicals; usually the hero and heroine are titled, but usually at least one of them is impoverished, leading to some desperate measures. And sometimes those measures lead them to own or work in houses of ill repute, whether gambling or prostitution.

Probably the most famous of these heroes is Derek Craven from Lisa Kleypas’s Dreaming of You. Derek is fabulously wealthy, due to his owning a gambling house, but he’s also the son of a prostitute. Then there’s Mary Jo Putney’s recent release, Nowhere Near Respectable, whose hero is also both illegitimate and a gambling den owner. Too Wicked to Wed’s hero is aristocractic, but is driven to his lower-class profession due to poverty.

Do you like it when your heroes (and much less frequently, the heroines) engage in less-than-honorable pursuits? What other books feature gamblers?

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Rose In RoseBear
1. Rose In RoseBear
I enjoy the (somewhat unrealistsic) historical in which the social scale between husband and wife is forever unbalanced. Usually it's the heroine who "has the smell of the shop" about her person, but one of my all-time favorites is Elizabeth Hoyt's Georgian-era commoner Harry Pye, the Leopard Prince. (fan, pant, pant, drool ...). And there's Lorraine Heath's Surrender To The Devil, where the duke falls in love with the cleaned-up street urchin who hasn't forgotten where she came from. Also, Edith Layton's unforgettable Gilly (The Choice, and all of the "C" books), the nobleman's ward who was born to the streets.

Rich women who buy impoverished titled gentlemen are also fun, but there has to be an extra layer to make it memorable. In Mary Balogh's Dancing With Clara, Clara is rich and handicapped, and buys morally weak Freddie with ease. There's also Mary Jo Putney's The Bargain (an expansion of The Would-Be Widow), where the lady buys a dying man for her own purposes, only to find herself painted into a corner.

Oh, and I do love the gamblers! Lisa Kleypas has a fondness for them, too --- Derek Craven, his successor's son-in-law Sebastian (he's titled-and-poor, but his wife is the daughter of a boxer-turned-gambler who inherits her father's sin palace in The Devil In Winter), and Cam Rohan (Mine Till Midnight) made their fortunes on the turn of a card. There's also Lorraine Heath's Jack Dodger (Between The Devil And Desire), where the grown-up street urchin hooks up with a duke's daughter. Elizabeth Lowell gender-flips the gambler motif with desperate card sharp Eveyln Starr Johnson, the heroine of Only You.

This Cara Elliot novel looks great ... don't remember reading one where a man ran a brothel!
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