Book Reviews

Review: Reputation by Lex Croucher

Pitched as Mean Girls meets Bridgerton, this book sounded like it would be a real lark. However, I found myself slightly disappointed…

Book: Reputation by Lex Croucher

Publication date: 8th July 2021

Ownership: E-ARC sent free of charge via NetGalley. All opinions my own.

Content warnings taken from the author’s site: Onpage: drinking, drug use, grief, domestic abuse, sexual assault, mentions of homophobia and racism. Off-page, unseen or alluded to: rape.

The hilarious debut novel from Lex Croucher. A classic romcom with a Regency-era twist, for fans of Mean Girls and/or Jane Austen.

Abandoned by her parents, middle-class Georgiana Ellers has moved to a new town to live with her dreary aunt and uncle. At a particularly dull party, she meets the enigmatic Frances Campbell, a wealthy member of the in-crowd who lives a life Georgiana couldn’t have imagined in her wildest dreams.

Lonely and vulnerable, Georgiana falls in with Frances and her unfathomably rich, deeply improper friends. Georgiana is introduced to a new world: drunken debauchery, mysterious young men with strangely arresting hands, and the upper echelons of Regency society.

But the price of entry to high society might just be higher than Georgiana is willing to pay …

Reputation is far more Gossip Girl-esque drama than it is historical fiction. For me, I found the constant flouting of society’s rules to stretch my suspension of disbelief too far – I really couldn’t see anything realistic about the wild, hedonistic, unchaperoned lives these girls seemed to live. I’m not in any way suggesting Regency people didn’t get drunk, take drugs, and have house parties where all sorts of naughtiness happened, but genteel young ladies hoping for decent marriages? For a book so concerned with reputations, these girls get away with far, far too much to be believably unruined. There are light attempts to give this some historical context – mentions of King George, discussions of fashion – but the bulk of the story could have been transferred into a 21st century setting almost wholesale. It just didn’t work as a historical piece for me, at all. But then, in places, the historical setting holds it back from feeling quite real as a drama piece, by which I mostly mean that the role of sex in the book comes across a little bit weirdly – the debauched parties contain everything but kissing and sex, unless it’s to make a point about ruination, so they feel kind of unnaturally stilted. It’s an unsettling mix of wildness and prudishness, and it just didn’t quite make sense. Historical romance as a genre manages to contextualise consensual kissing and sex while remaining more or less in line with the reality of social rules, so this grated particularly on me as I’ve seen it done well!

I mentioned consensual kissing and sex above, and I want to unpick that a little bit more in terms of the historical setting, so this paragraph will get pretty spoilery. Skip down to the end if you don’t want the end of the book spoiled! Okay, if people have gone: the climax of this book involves Georgiana spilling the beans to the world about a guy that sexually assaulted her – and him being cast out of society while her reputation remains more-or-less intact. No. NO. This is ridiculous. Put this story back into modern times, please, and leave it there. Women confronting their abusers is an important narrative, yes, and there are ways and means to handle this in a historical context but this is NOT one of them. It rang utterly false and completely ignored the entire concept of “reputation”. The best that Georgiana could have hoped for would have been Thomas – the good guy – challenging her attacker to a duel, and then marrying her if he still wanted to, but for her to come out and accuse a well-liked, rich guy of sexual assault and not be ruined herself, or at the very least hastily shuffled into marriage with either her abuser or some other guy willing to ignore that she’s ‘soiled goods’? Arrant nonsense. The more I think about this, the more it makes me angry. Great, important teen/new adult plot. HORRIBLE execution.

I also don’t think I liked a single character. There’s some mileage to be gained from love-to-hate-them characters, for sure, but over the course of a 450 page novel I really found myself flagging. Georgiana is not likeable enough for her actions towards pretty much everyone she knows to be forgivable. It’s understandable how she’s drawn in to a bad crowd, but there comes a point where she seems to be not just trying to keep up but getting out of her depth but being wilfully awful. I got very fed up with her as a main character. I also got bored with the rest of the friendship group, who are pretty flat and don’t seem to grow much at all – there’s only so many scenes of people getting blackout drunk that I can find entertaining. Also, I might be getting old, but for something that comes across so YA (especially in its prudish attitude towards sex), I also didn’t think that the narration did enough to condemn the drinking and drug abuse. It felt pretty much glorified to me, which was a little uncomfortable.

Oh, tell a lie. I did like Thomas Hawksley, Georgiana’s love interest, who is presented as a really decent guy who has little patience for the kind of debauchery that Frances and her crew take part in. He’s not hugely fleshed out, but he’s a nice foil to show how far Georgiana’s been dragged from her actual personality, which would prefer a quiet night in with a book to a drunken night out. He’s actually a fairly archetypal Regency romance hero, someone who people think is aloof but is actually traumatised by something in his past, and I would have liked to see him in another story’s hands. I do want to give kudos for a cute set of flirtatious letters between him and Georgiana, and also for him being allowed to cry and express emotions on page without being seen as less manly for it. The rest of this book is so poorly nuanced that this feels like the only part that actually did belong to a historical romance novel; an emotionally literate hero.

While I’m aware I’m ranting, I do want to give credit where it’s due: Reputation is a readable book. It’s enjoyable, in places! I found it tedious towards the end, but it does a good job of showing how Georgiana gets dragged into this world. There’s a huge amount of YA that focuses on toxic friendships, and this would definitely fit in there, and I think the Mean Girls comp is pretty on point. However, this book had me re-evaluating whether I actually even still like the film Mean Girls, which is a real feat. I think I’ve just lost a lot of patience for the kind of selfish teen behaviour these pieces depict – I also didn’t rate The Furies or The Scapegracers, but that doesn’t mean I don’t think that they do a good job of depicting toxic female friendships. These books will find their readers, and they deserve to – that just doesn’t include me anymore, I realise.

Honestly, if people come across this and think it’s a good entry point to historical romance, I’m gonna be so mad. This is a modern day teen novel with a couple of bits of historical trimming that basically gets everything wrong about Regency romance. The comparison to Bridgerton – the idea that this is somehow raunchier, more debauched, or more funny than “regular” historical romance – is actually pretty insulting. I initially planned to give this three stars, but writing this review made me realise just how much I disliked about it. Please, if you’re looking for sexy, funny, rebellious Regency stuff, let me know – I can give you dozens of recs! You could do worse than the actual Bridgerton books, which are so much funnier than the show was. Anyway, Reputation is setting itself up as a new take on Regency romance, but honestly, we’ve got it covered way better already, and inside the historical lines. This is Gossip Girl trying on a bonnet as a laugh. Two out of five cats.

4 thoughts on “Review: Reputation by Lex Croucher

  1. Yes please, a list of Regency novels (of any heat level!) with emotionally-literate men and likable characters sounds great. If it has a plot, so much the better.


    1. Ooh, okay! My number one rec for emotionally-literate heroes is always going to be Jenni Fletcher, she has SUCH a knack for them. Try Miss Amelia’s Mistletoe Marquess or Unexpectedly Wed to the Officer to start with! For something a bit steamier, Eva Leigh’s Union of the Rakes has some great heroes, particularly My Fake Rake. Tessa Dare’s heroes are almost universally decent guys – try The Governess Game if you want a hero hugely supportive of the heroine’s dreams and also good with kids. Tessa Dare and Eva Leigh are usually strong on plot too. A Duke Changes Everything by Christy Carlyle has a hero who really puts in his own emotional work to tackle his problems rather than making the heroine do it. The Earl’s Countess of Convenience by Marguerite Kaye has a really likeable hero, aware of his emotions and issues, too, and both leads in Dukes Actually by Erica Ridley are absolute delights (though this has practically no plot, just the romance)! And finally, It’s Getting Scot in Here by Suzanne Enoch has just such a nice, funny, likeable male lead (loved the heroine too but he stands out in my memory). I have reviews for all of these up if you click through the dropdown menu at the top!


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