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Book Review: Mad & Bad: Real Heroines of the Regency

The Regency period of British History has long fascinated pop culture – most notably in the form of Regency Romances, a sub-genre of Historical Romance that can and does dominate the marketplace. Perhaps it’s for that reason that Bea Koch, the owner of the Ripped Bodice bookstore (a store that only sells romance novels), wrote this book.

Mad and Bad is a quick trip through a few luminaries from a broad spectrum of “types of women” like Mistresses or Artists or the Patronesses of Almack’s. And I do mean quick trip. Essentially this book features a bunch of snapshots of some of the more prominent historical women of the time period. The biographies of these women are brief… about the size of a Wikipedia article… and don’t go into a lot of depth. What you get is a taste, an amuse bouche, of these women’s lives.

But it’s not really a filling meal…

As a lover of both history and Historical Romance, I was really looking forward to reading this book. There are so many fascinating women in the regency featured in this book including two of my personal favorites: Mary Anning and Emma Hamilton.

I was happy with their inclusion along with the inclusion of other awesome women who I’ve only a passing familiarity with, but I found the execution wanting. As in I wanted more. For example, I was excited to read about the patronesses of Almack’s – these monoliths have appeared or have been mentioned in many a Regency Romance and I have long wanted to learn the truth. And while I enjoyed this section, some of the Patronesses were left out and some of those who were featured didn’t get much more than a quick summary of their life. It made me hungry for more.

I appreciated that the author acknowledged that the Regency was less white, less straight, and less Christian than most people think. But again, I wanted more. Her section on Jewish Women in the Regency was one of her best, and I’m definitely going to be looking into more of these awesome Jewish Women. But it wasn’t the meaty morsel I want out of my non-fiction. And in the case of Mary Anning, Rejected Princesses did it better.

But that’s not the only problem I had with this book -- in her section on Women of Color in the Regency, the author, I feel, made a large misstep. The section only focused on three women: Dido Elizabeth Belle, Mary Seapole, and Princess Caraboo. The last one isn’t even a woman of color, but a con-artist who pretended to be an “exotic foreign princess” to make money and mooch off of people. It didn’t leave a good taste in my mouth. I’d have liked to have seen more women of color, including those from the Indian Subcontinent, featured rather than the Rachel Dolezal of the Regency.

On top of that misstep, the book wasn’t laid out in a logical fashion. In many instances, the book would interrupt its quick dive into its featured woman to talk about someone else… most of the time another woman, but in one instance a man. I found it confusing… more suited to a footnote than a large interruption. I don’t know if the final book will feature a Bibliography; the ARC I was provided was clearly unfinished and didn’t have one. There is at the end of each section a list of Recommended Reading/Watching, but it’s not a bibliography. Not really. It features Movies, TV shows, and Romance Novels in addition to non-fiction sources.

So did I learn anything? Yes, I absolutely did. But was it more than I would have gotten from a Wikipedia Article on the subject, I’m not sure.

So because of that, and because of the other problems I did have with this text. I’m going to give this:

Two Stars.

If this is your jam, you can get it here.

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I received a copy of this book via NetGalley.

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