I bought this book mostly because of the quantity of good reviews I read here (you'd think I'd have learned by now) and elsewhere. Let's just say I was greatly disappointed.
Eliza Merriweather is a Regency English artist whose only dream is to go to Italy and study with the masters there. Hampered by the fact that she was born into a fairly good family and has two younger sisters along with two matchmaking great-aunts who are her guardians, Eliza is forced to endure one Season before she can run off to follow her dream. Though they know of her plans, her aunts, armed with their father's military strategy guide, are convinced they can find husbands for both Eliza and her debutante sister Grace.
Magnus MacKinnon, the Earl of Somerton, younger son of a dissolute Scottish lord has just inherited the family title after the death of his equally dissolute elder brother. Magnus, having been in the military prior to becoming the earl, is unprepared to deal with the enormous financial burdens he inherited and, having made what looks to be a very poor investment with his remaining funds, is faced with marrying money or losing everything. He meets the decidedly penniless Eliza shortly after she's committed a huge faux pas during her presentation.
This book is yet another unoriginal attempt to cash in on the appeal of humorous Historical Regency romances. From the first few pages with the dotty, matchmaking aunts and the too precocious heroine I could see disaster looming. This could have been a great story, if told the right way. There could have been believable problems with better portrayals of the protagonists. "Rules of Engagement" just doesn't doesn't deliver on its possibilities.
Eliza is an artist. Or so it seems. Sure, she says she's an artist, and we see her painting, but I never really believe it. Judging by her attitude and outlook, painting seems more like a hobby to her. I've known some artists in my time and know that they come in all shapes, sizes, creeds, and personalities, but there's one thing that tends to unify them, no matter their style or medium, and that is that their art is not just a 9 to 5 job, it's who they are and deeply affects nearly every aspect of their lives. I don't see Eliza looking at the world from what are believably an artist's eyes; she seems just like every other ninny of a Regency debutante in the romance world. Her conflict over her wish to study in Italy would have been brilliant if it would have been something I could buy into, but it wasn't. On top of the fact that I'm not sold on her commitment to her art, she's also incredibly selfish. Her sister Grace is made to seem like a self-centered brat toward the end, but I really think that depiction should belong to Eliza. She does some things that truly could compromise both of her sister's future prospects and doesn't even have the intelligence to realize it--and when they're pointed out to her, she's slightly contrite, but then commits the same mistakes again. I found her almost wholly unlikable when she could have been such a wonderful heroine and that's a shame.
Magnus barely exists for me. He's Scottish, but other than his brogue-ridden speech and a couple of statements, I would never guess. Apparently he was in the military too, but other than a few pat references, you would never know it. I feel the same way about Magnus's military career that I do about Eliza's being an artist. Also, Magnus makes some really dumb and selfish decisions. He makes an investment that is, as other characters point out, a horrible decision. He pursues Eliza, knowing he most likely cannot marry her, which seems really inconsiderate to me; at the least some cogency could have been added to a character who is mostly an enigma if he'd had to spend some real time pining after what he couldn't have instead of knowing he couldn't have it and trying to take it anyway. This character just didn't work for me at all.
Filled with matchmaking schemes, "cute" elderly relatives, wallpaper motivations, unpleasant characters and too-trite-to-stomach moments "Rules of Engagement" gets a two star rating from me. Why do I even give it two stars? Well, I will say that there are glimpses of promise in this book that elevate it above a total disaster; I really believe with better execution, it could have been excellent. The prose is very good, and it is at times very readable, it's only when the author tries too hard to be funny or cute that it doesn't work for me. I'd even say that I'd give this author another try if someone I trusted said her next work was worth the bother--I can see that there is some real potential here. All in all, though, I'd not recommend this book to anyone. You've seen it before, and you've seen it done better.