A Reckless Match by Kate Bateman
First in a new series about two warring families who find their members falling in love with each other despite a centuries-long feud which started over a pig (or possibly a woman). One family Welsh, the other English, they’ve never had a problem finding something to fight over. In the current generation, Madeline has been tormented since childhood by Gryff… and I use the word advisedly.
I love Bateman’s writing. I love her banter. But this whole ‘little boys are horrible to the girls they like’ idea plays into a nasty real-life thing where girls are dismissed for complaining about unconscionable treatment because ‘the boys like them really’. Gryff and his brothers were actively cruel to Maddie and her cousin Harriet, who were younger, smaller, and being female presumably less well resourced to fight back - there’s plenty of descriptions of incidents in the book where Gryff and his brothers did something horrible and not one where Maddie and Harriet were actually able to get even the smallest measure of revenge. And apparently there wasn’t a single adult who cared enough to step in and put a stop to the bullying, even if it was just by removing the girls from the situation entirely (what I would have done in order to avoid causing escalation of the feud further).
This would have been perfectly fine if Maddie and Gryff had just been raised to think of each other as the Enemy and not actually met until they were adults. They could have met for the first time on that bridge, knowing each other only by reputation, and this could still have been just as sparkling in the banter and the enemies-to-lovers plotline. But the history between them means this is a bully romance, and I’m afraid I just don’t like bullies and I don’t want to see them get happy endings. This might be a me problem; other people might have no problem with this. Bully romance is a popular genre in contemporary; it’s not shown up much in historical yet, and for my part, I hope it doesn’t because it’s pretty close to being a trigger for me.
Also, and I’m saying this as someone who actually grew up on the Welsh border close to Chester, there is absolutely no place on the Welsh border - and certainly not in landlocked Powys! - which comes close to matching the geography described in this book. None. I’m being a picky purist but incorrect geography is one of my pet peeves in historical romance. Cross-border politics + coastal smuggling literally doesn’t work here; the author needed to pick one or the other.
There are things I like here - mainly Maddie, who took no nonsense from Gryff despite his despicable behaviour to her in the past, the banter and actually the smuggling subplot which created a threat they had to face together. But the dodgy geography and Gryff being a bully really turned me off. I’ll give this one three stars.
Disclaimer: I received a review copy of this title via NetGalley.