We’ve been waiting for Imogen and Tommy’s story for years, and let me tell you — it was even better than I hoped! Knockout by Sarah MacLean finally gives a pair of beloved side characters their turn in the spotlight, and it’s worth every minute of the wait and then some.
If you’re already a fan of MacLean’s Hell’s Belles, you know what you’re walking into. The romance book series, of which Knockout is the third entry, is loosely inspired by the real-life history of the Forty Elephants, an all-female gang whose methods and scope were probably not quite as superheroic as MacLean’s band of glamorous vigilantes and rebels. If you love your steamy, can’t-put-down romance with a side of gleeful chaos, female friendship, and taking down the corrupt and misogynistic men who run Victorian England — this is the series for you.
Knockout by Sarah MacLean gives us two more phenomenal and complex characters whose push-and-pull dynamic has been brewing through the previous two books. Lady Imogen Loveless is overlooked by polite society as being something of an odd duck, and she’s mostly fine with that, preferring the company of her Hell’s Belles and her experiments with chemistry and explosives. Thomas Peck is the deeply honorable detective inspector who keeps finding himself on a collision course with the Belles — and Imogen in particular — leaving him with pretty much a 24/7 headache. Their gloriously needling banter has been a highlight throughout the series, and it’s even better now that they get to take up space as the leads.
When a series of explosions begin targeting female-run businesses and allies, the Belles suspect something is up — as does Tommy, although his superiors at Scotland Yard aren’t as convinced. Making matters worse is that Imogen’s brother, wary of scandal, is insisting she gets married, and Tommy has been assigned to guard her and keep her away from any unsavory activities. Instead, he finds himself drawn into her investigation. What follows is a frankly delightful amount of sexual tension, capped by an always-fun trope: “Maybe if we act on our feelings just once, it will get it out of our system!”
Both Imogen and Tommy are phenomenal characters individually, and together, they’re even more special. One of our favorite dynamics in romance is where outwardly confident characters connect over the things that they’re secretly sensitive and insecure about, and that’s exactly what Tommy and Imogen do for each other. Yes, they banter and annoy each other and channel all of that into chaotic horniness, but they also see — and love — the very things about each other that they think weaken them. MacLean does a fantastic job balancing the witty, cutting dialogue with the most heartfelt moments that make you swoon.
The Hell’s Belles series has always been wonderful about balancing the deeper social commentary with the romance, and this installment is no exception. This time around, we’re diving into class divisions and corruption in government and law enforcement. Hell’s Belles, at its heart, is a series that highlights the lengths to which power will go to maintain power — and the ways in which getting justice sometimes requires an unconventional approach. It’s not a soft, drawing-rooms-and-curtseys historical romance, but one that reminds us how, even in the eras we think of as straitlaced, there have always been “rebels” and “rabble rousers” fighting for a more just and equal society.
So, if you like Miss Scarlet and the Duke, Miss Fisher’s Murder Mysteries, and/or The Law According to Lidia Poet (that is, you like women in fabulous gowns chasing down powerful bad guys while accompanied by an exasperated guy who also finds the whole situation frustratingly attractive), Knocout by Sarah MacLean is for you. Plus, the cliffhanger at the end will have you on the edge of your seat for the next installment. Ballrooms and butt-kicking — who’s to say we can’t have both?
Knockout by Sarah MacLean is now available wherever books are sold.
Book Cover Credit: ©Sarah MacLean | Avon Books