Sarah MacLean on the Bareknuckle Bastards' 'Daring' Conclusion

Posted by Sharon on June 1, 2020
Fans of Sarah MacLean know her as a writer of historical romances, a passionate defender of the romance genre, and a creator of some truly pun-tastic book titles. (Exhibit A: MacLean classics like One Good Earl Deserves a LoverA Scot in the Dark, and The Rogue Not Taken. Exhibit B: This essay she wrote for Goodreads on the topic.)

With her Bareknuckle Bastards series, MacLean leaves behind the aristocratic ballrooms of her previous novels to explore the seedier elements of Victorian London society.

Devon and Whit, the bastard brothers of the series title, rule the criminal elements of Covent Garden with rumor and reputation (and the occasional sweet for helpful street urchins). MacLean wrote their happily ever afters in Wicked and the Wallflower and last year's Brazen and the Beastboth nominated for Goodreads Choice Awards in the romance category. Now she's back with the final book in the trilogy, Daring and the Duke, about the most mysterious bastard brother of all: Ewan, the Duke of Marbury, who's exhibited some truly appalling behavior as the series antagonist thus far.
MacLean spoke with Goodreads about writing redemption stories for seemingly irredeemable characters, the connection between this book and Magic Mike XXL, and her conviction that there is a perfect romance novel for every kind of reader.

Goodreads: Tell us about Grace and Ewan, the main characters of Daring and the Duke. What's the backstory that readers need to know about them from the previous Bareknuckle Bastards books?
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Sarah MacLean: Once upon a time, Grace and Ewan were in love. They were young and first love is a powerful thing—especially between young people who only have each other. Things went awry when Ewan tried to kill Grace and chased her and his two half-brothers off the estate, leaving them to raise themselves on the streets of London and plot their revenge.

Now Grace is a queen of Covent Garden, running a women's pleasure club and a vast network of spies and trading in information. When Ewan returns, desperate to find her, the truth of that long-ago night is thrown into question—along with their hearts.

GR: Your longtime readers know that you are very, very good at reforming bad-boy heroes who've actually behaved quite terribly in the past. Daring and the Duke also gives us a hero who needs a heck of a redemption arc after those previous events. What draws you to this particular theme? Are you ever worried that readers won't sympathize with these characters?

SM: I'm always worried readers won't sympathize! Here's the wild thing—I don't even sympathize usually when the book starts. I think that's the only way I can really get in the headspace of a reader and write a real redemption arc.

Everything has to be in question: Is he really good? What made him do terrible things? How much of a grovel does he have to do (spoiler: it's always ALL THE GROVEL), and what is going to motivate him to actually do that grovel?

I wish I understood why I'm so drawn to these irredeemable heroes. Part of it is that some of my very favorite heroes in romance are these heroes: Kresley Cole's Lothaire, Lisa Kleypas' St. Vincent (Devil in Winter), Anne Mallory's Roman Merrick (One Night Is Never Enough), J.R. Ward's Rehvenge (Lover Avenged), and I think you're always drawn as a writer to the stories you love.

But also, it's a game with myself—write into risk. Take every chance. Never pull your punches. And trust that you can make it work. I think this makes for better certainly makes the writing of them more interesting (read: hair pulling!). Here's hoping I made this one work!

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GR: What's the research process like when you write historical romances? Do you find that you have to debunk certain misconceptions that contemporary readers may have about ye olden days?

SM: In the early days, I researched pretty much everything, from food to clothing to wallpaper to carriages. These days, I don't have to do as much of that, so I can really focus on doing the research around whatever the particular story is.

In this case, I spent a lot of time researching the role of women at all levels of society in the early Victorian era—specifically because I knew I was writing a women's pleasure club in the first year of Victoria's reign, and I wanted to really explore the way women rose before Victorian mores shut them down. This ends up on the page with a club that's very similar to the club owned by Jada Pinkett Smith's character in Magic Mike XXL, lady bareknuckle boxers, and a world where women can taste their power—and it was an absolute delight to write.

That said, there are always readers who struggle to believe that women (and all marginalized people) have always sought and found power, pleasure, and love. That's the joy of writing historicals—any story you can dream up probably has roots in history.

GR: Readers often cite the banter between leads as something they love about your books. Any advice for aspiring writers on how to write great banter?

SM: Television and movies! I go back again and again to writers who are known for great dialogue. Deadwood, The West Wing, anything by Nora Ephron, Scandal, Casual, Mad Men, Peaky Blinders.

I love anything with rhythm, and I spend a whole lot of time just listening to the words go back and forth—the faster the better. All these shows leave out the boring stuff. And that's the whole trick.

GR: You've long been a passionate defender of romance as a smart genre that can appeal to a variety of very thoughtful readers. What are some of the remaining myths about romance that you'd like to bust? And which romance would you stick in the hands of someone who is skeptical about the genre to change their mind?

SM: Romance is a vast, varied, wonderful genre, and I think many of its detractors have a really narrow view of it. I like to say that if you tell me your favorite book in any genre, I can recommend a romance novel that you'll enjoy. Will it turn you into a romance reader? Maybe not—happily ever after as a covenant isn't for everyone—but I think I can show you that the genre is more than you think. In fact, if you check out my recommendation page on my website, you'll find more than 250 romances from all across the genre, and something there is sure to entertain. 
Asking me to choose just one?! Impossible! But here are a few:

For historical fiction lovers: Loretta Chase's glorious Lord of Scoundrels; for commercial fiction lovers: Kate Clayborn's Love Lettering; for people who love literary nonfiction based on current events, Adriana Herrera's American Love Story; Game of Thrones lovers should try Milla Vane's A Heart of Blood and Ashes; and if you're into politics? You cannot go wrong with Kennedy Ryan's The Kingmaker

GR: What are some recent trends in historical romance that you're excited about?

SM: In 2020, it seems like readers are really looking for books to take them away from the reality of what's going on out in the world...and I think historical is really able to provide that kind of escape right now.

Trends I'm excited about aren't really new, but we're definitely seeing a resurgence of non-aristocratic heroes, heroines with jobs, and unconventional settings—Regency ballrooms will always be fabulous, but K.J. Charles' Edwardian series and Joanna Shupe's Gilded Age New York series are stunning, Rebel Carter is writing beautiful historical American-set Westerns, and Emma Barry and Genevieve Turner are writing the 1950s. I love the way the genre is expanding to encompass so much more. 

GR: Who are the romance authors whose new releases are on your auto-buy list?

SM: You asked for it! 

Lisa KleypasLorraine HeathNaima SimoneSophie Jordan, Kristen Callihan, Sierra Simone, Alexis DariaJoanna Shupe, Adriana Herrera, Christina Lauren, and London Hale.

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GR: What other romances should fans of your work try?

SM: For gruff, sexy historical heroes: Joanna Shupe, Sophie Jordan, and Lorraine Heath.

For strong heroines who never back down: Tessa Dare, Victoria Dahl, and Tracey Livesay.

For larger-than-life settings and casts that make you want to peek around every corner: Kresley Cole, Lisa Kleypas, and Alexis Daria.

GR: Tell us about your podcast! What do you talk about? Can you suggest a characteristic episode or two for new readers to start with?

SM: Fated Mates began as a passion project between my friend Jennifer Prokop, a romance critic for Kirkus Reviews, and me when we both discovered our deep, abiding love of Kresley Cole's Immortals After Dark series. We intended to record a fun 18-episode podcast, with each episode as a deep-dive analysis of one of the books in the series—which we both believe is one of the best in romance.

Now, nearly two years later, we continue to do deep-dive episodes of books we both love, interspersed with episodes focusing on the beloved tropes of romance novels: why we love them, how they work, and what books do them perfectly. Every episode will threaten to topple your TBR pile! 

GR: Tell us about some books you've read and loved recently. What titles are you trying to matchmake your friends and family with?

SM: I cannot stop raving about Alexis Daria's upcoming You Had Me at Hola, out in August. Aside from having the most gorgeous cover I've ever seen, it's a delicious story about the star of a Netflix-streamed telenovela that is a huge success, and her new, awkward, down-on-his-luck co-star. It's a little enemies to lovers, a little oops! we're in an actual relationship, and entirely delightful. I've loved Alexis' books since her debut, and this one is her best yet.  
Sophie Jordan has a knack for harnessing the wild stories of the old-school romances that so many readers found when they first became romance readers and updating them for a new era. Her most recent release, The Virgin and the Rogue, is an aphrodisiac romance for the modern reader—the heroine's sister whips up a tincture to ease the heroine's cramps and...oops! It's an aphrodisiac! But don't worry, there's a rogue in the house...and he's all about consent. 
Nikki Sloane is one of the best erotica writers out there—an immediate auto-buy for me when she puts out a new book, and she's just tied up her Filthy Rich Americans quartet with The Redemption. It's not easy to write erotic romance that is wildly sexy, deeply emotional, and also page-turning, but she does it every time.
You'd be hard-pressed to find a writer closer to the top of her game than Joanna Shupe with her current Uptown Girls series, and the most recent one, The Prince of Broadway, is proof. Joanna gets better and better with each of her books, and this one, featuring rival casino owners in Gilded Age New York, is unputdownable.

GR: Finally, is there a question you've always wanted to be asked in an interview? (And what's your answer?)
SM: Hmm... How about this one: What's the first thing you're going to do when you get out of quarantine? (Sorry, it's literally all I'm thinking about.)

Answer: Professionally made cold brew, a fresh croissant, and a great romance novel in the sun. 


Sarah MacLean's Daring and the Duke will be published in the U.S. on June 30. Don't forget to add it to your Want to Read shelf! Be sure to also read more of our exclusive author interviews to get more great book recommendations.

Comments Showing 1-19 of 19 (19 new)

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message 1: by Sonja (new)

Sonja Absolutely loved this! Sarah MacLean is rapidly becoming one of my favorite authors. I'm eagerly awaiting this last Bareknuckle Bastards book and, after reading this, I'm even more excited and loving her work! I love that she's a strong supporter of romance as a legit and serious(ly awesome) literary category. Also, I've added at least half a dozen of her recommendations to my TBR... LOL! Thank you for sharing this!

message 2: by Samer (new)

Samer 😵😫

message 3: by Samer (new)

Samer 😑😦😱🙊

message 4: by Quinn (new)

Quinn Sarah rocks! I seem to enjoy her both as a writer and as a person!!

message 5: by [deleted user] (new)

Sarah is brilliant and funny! I love her!

message 6: by Samantha (new)

Samantha Weidenbenner I wish there was a way to pin this so I could come back to it and keep using it to fill up my TBR without feeling overwhelmed by adding all of these right now.

message 7: by Mr (last edited Jun 23, 2020 02:52PM) (new)

Mr I read all her books and I'm waiting to read this one. Sarah McLean is one of my favorite authors. I like her strong and unusual characters.

message 8: by Pepa (new)

Pepa A fresh croissant, and a great romance novel in sun is a great plan!!
a fantastic interview ;)
Thanks a lot ♥

Lady Whitbrooke Thanks for the interview, I love SM and have soooo been looking forward to this book👏👏👏👏👏

message 10: by Kris (new)

Kris Thomas Samantha wrote: "I wish there was a way to pin this so I could come back to it and keep using it to fill up my TBR without feeling overwhelmed by adding all of these right now."

Samantha, if you click share it gives you the option of saving on Pinterest!

message 11: by Robin in Vermont (new)

Robin in Vermont What a treat! I don't have this series yet, so I can't wait to dig in on audio (my only way to buy books these days)! But the best part is the list of Sarah's fav authors! Once I finish her series, I'm going to start collecting them! Thanks for sending me this link!

message 12: by Samina (new)

Samina Great interview. I love her books. I hope she continues to entertain and inspire us with her books during stressful times. Thanks Sarah for writing such books.

message 13: by Aura (new)

Aura Figueroa I love your books, I’ll be expecting your new book

message 14: by Mak (new)

Mak ♡ In love. Fantastic writer. Each book a new passion. Perfect books.

message 15: by Bonnie (new)

Bonnie Klein This is terrific. It’s forcing me to add new books to my TBR list. Thank you so much.

message 16: by TMR (new)

TMR Love this!

message 17: by Jozy (new)

Jozy Santana 🥰🥰🥰🥰❤️

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message 19: by Reader Nurse (new)

Reader Nurse I have read all your books and I am waiting to read. Sarah McLean is one of my favorite writers. I love his strong and unusual characters. Also thank you very much for the interview. A miss writer and book

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