Review of “Magnate” (Knickerbocker Club #1) by Joanna Shupe

Image belongs to Joanna Shupe and Kensington Publishing Corporation. A portion of this review also appears on Goodreads.

Publishing Information:

Shupe, Joanna. Magnate. New York: Zebra Books/Kensington Publishing Corp., 2016. ISBN-13: 978-1420139846. Print List Price: $7.99.

(4 stars)

I love historical romance, but I have always avoided American historicals, due to the perceived differences between them and British historicals. But I found that, despite the shift in setting, many of the conventions are the same, although the make-up of New York society is different from British society, with new moneyed individuals competing with old families for influence. Someone who wants to read about heroes like Lisa Kleypas’ Derek Craven, would love this book.

I loved the heroine, Elizabeth, who is called Lizzie by almost everyone except her husband. She very much reflects what I think of when I imagine some of the women at the end of the nineteenth century, still being subjected to societal pressures to marry but also forward thinking in wanting to pursue a career. Shupe states that her character was inspired by sisters Victoria Woodhull and Tennessee Claflin, who founded their own stock brokerage firm. In an interesting turn of events, which Shupe did not mention in her acknowledgements,  Woodhull also ran for president over a century and a half before Hillary Clinton.  Lizzie’s brother, Will a railroad tycoon, is considering going into politics himself by the end of this novel, and this is a major part of the next book, in which he is the hero. I’m not sure if Shupe chose to do this intentionally, but I found it a fun fact.
As for the hero, Emmett, I had mixed feelings. The alpha hero (alternately called the AlphHole or AlphaHole) has become like a plague among the romance market, with far too many heroes dealing with overly tragic pasts. I am aware that part of the appeal of the romance is the escapism aspect, but there’s only so many books you can read with a tortured hero with trust issues.

In his defense, however he’s not a terrible hero, as he does encourage Elizabeth in her career while other men in her life don’t, and he is ten times better than the slimeball snob who is also interested in her, but there were moments where I was like “Really?” One example was when there’s a slanderous cartoon printed about her in a paper, he plans to ruin the cartoonist’s life. And here’s direct quote of her reaction: “Her husband was promising retribution, likely physical, and she found it…arousing?” (256) I mean, sure, trying to get them to print a retraction or something makes some amount of sense, or even confronting the guy, but the idea of physical retribution (she even asks at one point if his guard is going to kill the cartoonist) is going a bit far.
I absolutely adore both Kelly (his guard) and Brendan (his brother), and I’m so sad that we likely won’t be getting full novels for them, as she has since changed publishers. What won me over about Kelly is that he seems to have a sense of humor, and really bring that out in Emmett as well, but he is also incredibly loyal to him. He also lost his wife, so I would have loved to have a story that explored his character a little more.

As for Brendan, I mostly want to see his story because it would present an opportunity for more career and character diversity among the heroes of Romancelandia. Unlike the dukes and billionaires, he is someone who works as a doctor and has a physical disability as a reminder of the tragic past he and Emmett shared growing up in Five Points. But unlike his brother, who spends most of the book really damaged by the trauma, we see someone who encourages his family and friends to open themselves up to love, even being the catalyst for the Emmett and and Lizzie ending up together.

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