Regency romance is truly having its Moment – but long gone are the days of chaste, historically accurate novels about the lords and ladies of the early 19th century. The new generation of Regency romances are full of life and colour, and rebellious men and women challenging the rigid class rules of the time. Lex Croucher’s first novel, Reputation, is one such story.

Reputation - Lex Croucher - Keeping Up With The Penguins
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Reputation begins – as so many Regency romances do – with a young, middle-class lady, staying with stuffy and overbearing relatives (her parents having absconded to Live By The Sea), bored out of her mind. Georgiana is desperate for friendship and excitement, but her only excursions with her fussy aunt are to dinners with neighbours that bore the life out of her.

At one such dull ‘party’, she’s hiding in an alcove to escape the dreary small talk when she’s joined by Frances Campbell, an enigmatic and unfathomably rich party girl of the social set. Lacking any other options, they befriend each other, and Georgiana is introduced to a whole new world beyond her wildest dreams.

Yes, Reputation is not one for the era purists. The focus is on fun, rather than realism. It’s Regency England with sex, drugs, and rock’n’roll. (Okay, fine, more the first two than the latter, but you get my point.) This Brat Pack of young lords and ladies thumb their nose at chaperones, get high on ‘peasant drugs’ in barns, drink themselves silly and generally cause chaos wherever they go. It’s everything Georgiana has been missing in her life, but of course, entering a world into which you weren’t born comes at a price.

Reputation has a romance plot, naturally, and a good one at that – but it’s really a book about friendship and class. It’s Mean Girls meets Bridgerton, and Croucher does an excellent job of incorporating critique into a standard storyline. In between all the lavish parties and clandestine debauchery, there are serious questions raised about sex, consent, wealth and privilege.

This is made abundantly clear in one particular scene, where one of Frances’s friends explicitly tells Georgiana that she can’t expect to get away with behaving the way the rest of them do, because she doesn’t have the wealth or the privilege of birth to protect her from the consequences that girls of her station would face. Georgiana’s shocked by this, which should tell you everything you need to know about the naivete of her character.

Reputation also has a remarkably diverse cast, with characters drawn from a range of racial and ethnic backgrounds, including nobility of Indian descent. Croucher says in the Acknowledgements that this was deliberate, a conscious choice to protest the widespread whitewashing of British history. For more context on that, I highly recommend reading Reni Eddo-Lodge’s Why I’m No Longer Talking To White People About Race.

All that said, what sparkles most in Reputation is, of course, the burgeoning romance between Georgiana and one of the men she meets in her new circle. My absolute favourite pages of Reputation were the letters exchanged between Georgiana and Thomas – they were so witty and flirtatious and fun! They had me grinning like a text message exchange with a new lover.

I also particularly enjoyed the (relatively) subtle resolution to the queer romance that blooms between Frances (who is revealed to be bisexual) and Jane, the same character who told Georgiana she was too poor to party. Their mutual attraction and distress at the social mores that keep them apart is brought to a really satisfying and clever solution in the epilogue, so hats off to Croucher for that.

So, if you’re looking for an accurate and appropriate Regency romance, full of long sighs and lingering glances across a ballroom, steer well clear of Reputation. If, however, you’re up for a fun romp through the Regency party scene, something to tide you over between seasons of Bridgerton, you’ll find this one to be a pure delight.

My favourite Amazon reviews of Reputation:

  • “it’s about as Regency as I am.” – Anita Sunday
  • “If you love historical/regency romance, this book is not for you. If you love YA and strong themes of alcoholism, morally grey characters, and don’t mind sexual assault, this is for you.” – Alice