Welcome to Romance Roundtable: a feature where all four editorial POME Crones gather together to discuss a Harlequin romance manga. Today we’re discussing The Man Behind the Scars by Caitlin Crews — a genuinely engrossing story about messy weirdos learning to trust each other. I mean, there are definitely still Problems, but this is rated pretty highly on the old Amazon dot com, and there’s definitely a reason why (it’s the sex scenes; but also probably all the time devoted to Processing Emotions! honestly it’s p good!).
CC: guys this is my problematic fave
i loved this stupid book
CC: hot people unpacking their feelings is my favorite genre LOL
Jenny: i def felt myself getting drawn TOO DEEP into this absurdity
Rachel: I was very surprised
CC: i mean there are some moments that get surprisingly real imo
Jenny: oh you mean like THIS shit
like, where did that even come from and also what is it exactly that you’re saying??
CC: lol yeah that did come out of nowhere
Rachel: some of the logic acrobatics that the characters made were pretty impressive
sometimes i was worried that I had accidentally skipped a page??
and missed some crucial dialogue
CC: oh before we get too much farther
want to summarize this blessed hot mess??
(also FWIW i totally agree rachel LOL)
CC: i would summarize this one as: marriage of convenience trope, except with a surprising amount of raw emotions mixed in with yr standard harlequin melodrama; earl has PTSD, model has a narcissistic mom; together they sort of make a relationship work after a lot of problematic bullshit and shared trauma
Jenny: this is a book about the all-too-common “contractual marriage of convenience” that we all know about and acknowledge as a Totally Normal thing rich people do. He thinks he’s an unlovable monster bc of childhood trauma and also this scar; she thinks he’s sexy bc of his dark eyes and probably his ponytail.
a lot of it is about him and his feelings but honestly it’s done in a way that i’m not mad about
CC: yeah I know right!
i mean, he was an earl and all, but he was surprisingly informal about his feelings
i mean, until he was very Not Casual about his feelings lol
Rachel: one thing I hated — that her name was Angel
that is the most Harlequin romance thing about this book
CC: so so true
and they got like
all the way to the end before they started going hard on the “my angel” puns
i was very disappointed about that lol
this book also got PRETTY sexy!
like, fanning myself over here at certain points
Jenny: oh def
CC: they boned in the library!!
Jenny: and against a tree!!
Rachel: just all over the place!!
it was Good
I feel like they prefaced it was some V Harlequin purity myth bullshit:
Rachel: oh yes that’s definitely true
CC: just so that they had a morality get out of jail free card for all that boning
Jenny: ugh ugh ugh
Rachel: part of me is also happy for her that her first boning experience was a good one lol
Jenny: i mean
Rachel: not some sloppy teen backseat car sex
Jenny: like, he’s real upfront about the fact that he wants an heir and it’s just like — girl! what did you think that was going to entail?!
Rachel: I don’t know what sex ed is like in the UK i guess
I assumed it was better than here but this story has me thinking otherwise??
Jenny: idk idk
CC: how is babby formed. how girl get pragnet [with the heir of pembroke]
also, ok, the Pembroke thing
Pembroke is Darcy’s home
and it is not in Scotland
Jenny: pemberley friend
Rachel: OH SHIT
CC: aw dang
Rachel: that’s so embarassing lol
Jenny: we can edit that out
Rachel: I’M LEAVING IT IN
CC: i was gonna say that
if it ain’t pemBROKE don’t fix it
CC: H A H A H A
Jenny: i kind of want to go back to the man’s emotions
(only time i’ve ever said that)
the “man”‘s emotions??
Jenny: but also on this page, they do a really good job, like, paralleling his emotional process w hers
CC: yeah I agree!!!
Jenny: like, there’s a real focus on both their shared and parallel emotional journey(s)
and the way they think through their situations is really purposefully similar, which makes him Super Sympathetic
like, sympathetic enough that it’s a little easier to look over the times when he’s shitty and kind of violent
which, like — a problem on its own
CC: I liked the part where they both talk about surviving their shitty moms
one thing that I really liked about Angel as a protagonist is that she calls this dude out all the time
CC: (for the readers at home: our heir of pembroke is named Rafe, sorry we forgot to mention that)
LOL THAT WAS SO GOOD
Rachel: yes!! she states at the very beginning that she never lies
I dig that
CC: what a bold move
Rachel: a common thing in romance stuff is for people to be so shady about the truth and never say what they feel / mean
she and her face-framing hair were a breath of fresh air
CC: lol rachel
yeah i agree tho
especially after some of our other romance roundtable features
it’s nice to see 2 people just vocalizing their internal processing
also I like that Angel didn’t immediately fall back into his arms
CC: i can’t relate to not crying over things so
but i can empathize with this whole scene
she didn’t just accept his “lol it’s not like i REALLY love u or anything” bullshit
she called him out and set a boundary and got the hell out of there (edited)
way 2 go girl
Jenny: i really liked how consistent her characterization was throughout the whole thing
like, sometimes in these the protag can feel kind of Too mary sue — like, designed to be projected on to — and this one was her own woman!
like, right out the gate
just straight to the point
not fucking around
CC: wearing a giant flower on her boob and calling dudes out at parties with a martini in her hand
i can’t even imagine having that kind of power
let’s just take a moment to appreciate the full #look
so much ruffle
a very 2008 prom dress
CC: i legit love that choker
i don’t care how extra it is; i love it
also her “casually traumatized” outfit
simple, but great use of subtle statement jewelry
Jenny: i mean, she said that she does some design consulting
so — needs to be stylish
on top of her modelling
Rachel: I want to know more about her history with her mom?
I feel like we got a lot of Rafe’s backstory
but like, we don’t know that much about Angel and why her mom spends so much
and why her sister Allegra doesn’t seem to help at all??
Jenny : oh i def agree
Rachel: I mean, she married a distant relation of Rafe’s so she’s gotta be $$$$
CC: yeah I feel like the sister stuff got really breezed over
Rachel: one thing I really appreciated is that, I feel this was the best drawn romance roundtable to date
very few weird panels
everybody was really expressive, the backgrounds were good
the backgrounds were great
CC: i am not gonna lie: i would be very into it if my contractual husband owned a creepy burned out scottish castle
words I never thought I would say but here we are
at least, words I never thought I would say in that sequence at one time
Jenny: oh that’s always been on my list
CC: dang jenny! you continue to kill it with your foresight
i want this for u
Rachel: is this a Practical Magic situation?
like replace pancake guy with burned out scottish castle
CC: i hope so
Jenny: lol i wish
tbh replace pancake guy w the hot dead farmer husband
Rachel: UGH YES
Jenny: LET HIM LIVE
anyway — this earl was like kind of shitty sometimes
as much as i love the emotional journey
i feel like we need to give some time to recognizing how Not Okay some of his shit was
like, what?? firstly, gross; but also YOU just bought a wife! but maybe that is just a really old-timey kind of promiscuity? what even is promiscuity??
Rachel: jeez, excellent point. I don’t know how modern promiscuity differs from old-timey promiscuity but w/e
CC: s a m e
that old time promiscuity
Rachel: ain’t that just the way
Rachel: he really does use his damage as an excuse to be a real shit bag sometimes tho
CC: yeah I feel like being all “here are all my feelings whoops u can’t judge me for being shitty” is like, the oldest trash boy trick in the book (edited)
while I think he is mostly not intentionally shitty?? GOD i don’t wanna make excuses for him but I do feel for him and his PTSD
from his family and also his unit
Rachel: he’s been through a lot for sure, and it’s hard to take that experience and turn it into compassion
I wish it was something we saw more of in our literature tho
maybe it’s just that the bar is p low, so processing and doing your best to not do the same shitty thing is like
groundbreaking, esp in this genre??
am I giving him too much of a pass????
look this is extremely cliched but it did get me:
Jenny: it was really sweet!
look at all these tough boys showing their love and appreciation for each other!
CC: i feel like this is in poor taste but
my favorite is freckles in the middle there
Rachel: i bet that’s what they all called him too, Freckles
CC: oh nooooo!! pfc freckles reporting for duty ;__;
Jenny: these good sweet boys!
BUT! (not to get back on this shit) little did they know their leader would pull some shit like this:
Jenny: No Good!
Rachel: very bad
Jenny: but also, i mean this guy IS out here w the relatable content, like
BUT THEN he pulls this shit!
this horrible very bad no good shit!
idk idk i v much enjoyed this book but this guy and all his emotional journey stuff was really complicated!
and there’s some stuff i haven’t really forgiven!
CC: that is v fair
doing more emotional labor than the dudes from our previous roundtables is
not the highest bar
still A Bar, but
while we might all want people to not expect things from us
here we are, Earl of Pembroke
Rachel: ugh definitely
he, like every other dude in all of the roundtable books, are lucky that these ladies forgive their shit
and not to keep this train going too much longer, but
she looks a lot like his mom
CC: LOL I KNOW
Jenny: like, A LOT
That is definitely A Decision
Jenny: like, i think there was a part where it flashed back to when his mom and brother were making fun of his scar/calling him a monster
and then it flashed back to this moment from when rafe and angel first met
and i just could not figure out how to read that decision
like, did he feel attacked? or was her comment meant to seem lighter when put in the context of him mom/brother’s super mean comments?
could not tell
Rachel: yeah it’s interesting because it’s something the artist did, but I don’t know if it’s what the writer intended??
Jenny: ohhhhh; good point
CC: i read it as her not being as put-off by it as they were
like, she kinda made light of the situation but didn’t avoid it or put him down??
but that, again, is a generous read lol
Jenny: idk — i figure any time someone mentions the phantom of the opera in relation to you, it’s a put down
Rachel: it’s so interesting how taking something from a purely written medium and putting it into comics with little to no oversight by the writer (I assume) can have unintended effects!
like how in the artist’s notes, they wrote how they decided to give Angel long hair, just cause they liked it better
CC: lol yeah
Rachel: I also want to know if those hair wings on the side of her face are described in detail in the book
because I am obsessed
Jenny: more angel imagery
having bangs AND hair wings is definitely a very anime aesthetic
CC: speaking of aesthetic
what did yall think about
these floral pants lol
Rachel: LOL CC i’ll be real — they made me think of you
“CC would like these pants”
CC: you were right, i did like those pants
i was v into those pants
Jenny: i am always down for a floral
CC: yeah I like that this is her whole vibe
i mean, same tho
Rachel: y’all ready for final thoughts?
CC: i have one more thing before final thoughts!
speaking of things that made me feel extremely Seen:
that “talking bc the silence is really uncomfortable” feeling
I really wonder if the book is as intense as this comic was???
I wonder how much was the artist’s interpretation and how much was in the original novel
i feel like this artist really knows what she is doing lol
Rachel: yes, def
CC: (also now i am ready that is the last thing i had before final thoughts)
Rachel: haha no worries!
CC: ok well my final thought is
cruel angel’s thesis
my final thought is
this kilt! more kilt weddings!
Rachel: yes!! my first thought when I saw this was “WHERE’S FRED”
that’s what this book was missing!
Rachel: that’s what all these books are missing
CC: “i’m not one for speechifyin’
but you kids
Rachel: lol so true
ok so my final thought is — is this book just “modern”, no magic, Beauty and the Beast?
she agrees to marry this dude to help her mom / Belle stays with the Beast to free her father
Jenny: it kind of seems that way!
Rachel: he’s physically marred by his past
CC: omg you’re right
was beauty and the beast
the original version of all these stories???
Rachel: she even goes into the forest at one point
Jenny: feels well-timed after “beauty and the beastmaster”
every Harlequin romance is Beauty and the Beast
CC: [ascending brain meme]
Rachel: you know, at the end of this, we should just write our own
Jenny: oh god yes can we?
Rachel: put all this experience into one, distilled piece
the ultimate Harlequin romance
CC: contractually obligated marriage for the flimsiest reason we can think of
Jenny: everyone is virgins; even after they have sex
CC: dude with an extremely inappropriate name for an earl is an earl
Rachel: everybody is british or british-adjacent
Jenny: Dick Thunder, Earl of Pemberley
i mean, we’ve been avoiding the “my italian archduke’s secret birthing secretary” type books for a reason to be fair
Rachel: also true
Jenny: and this one was such a hit do y’all think we should just start picking ones that actually have good reviews?
like, in the future?
CC: that’s how I found this one! I can get behind that
it was a fun read and we still had plenty to goof on
Join us next time, when we take a look at Amber by Night.