Love can come crashing into your life when you least expect it.
After the sudden death of his parents, Dominic, the Marquis of Aubrey, has inherited a prestigious title, abundant wealth, and a life of luxury. On his way to London to mark the start of another social season with drinking and carousing, his travels are interrupted by a collision with a young widow’s carriage.
Juliana Grenville, still mourning the death of her husband, prepares to help her overworked brother find a wife when the infamous Marquis crashes into her life. Intrigued by his secretive manner and dark past, she finds herself drawn into his world, even as both try to resist the growing passion between them.
This recently re-issued traditional Regency does suffer somewhat in comparison to many of today’s historical romances, principally in the area of the depth – or lack thereof – to the characterisation of the principals. The best of today’s historical romances present us with strongly characterised, fully fleshed-out heroes and heroines – and while it’s untrue to say that these don’t exist in older books (this was originally published in 1989), I have the impression from those I’ve read that it’s less common.
That said, there is an attempt in this story to introduce some depth to both protagonists, with the author being much more successful in the case of the heroine. The hero never really rises above the two-dimensional, despite the rather traumatic experiences of his past.
The story is a simple one. Lady Juliana Grenville is a young widow, having lost her husband of eighteen weeks – who was also her childhood sweetheart – during the war in Spain. In deference to his father’s wishes, and her promise to remain faithful to Will’s memory, Juliana has sequestered herself away at her country estate and is mostly content. But her aunt and companion, Sophia, is not at all happy with this, and finally manages to cajole Juliana into travelling to London to enjoy a Season and live a little.
On the way, they are involved in a carriage accident and are assisted by Dominic Crawford, the Marquis of Aubrey, a young man with a reputation so black that ladies quail at the very mention of his name. Well, the respectable ones do. All the others throw themselves at his blond, blue-eyed gorgeousness.
Dominic and his cousin Freddie strike up friendships with both ladies, with Dominic and Juliana becoming particularly close during the few days they spend together at a country inn. Despite their enforced association, I found it really odd that Juliana, Sophia, Dominic and Freddie were on first name terms within a few hours of their meeting.
All good things must come to an end however, and the gentlemen and ladies continue their journeys to London, where Juliana finds Dominic very changed. The companionship and warmth he had shown her previously is gone, to be replaced by a coldness that Juliana is at a loss to explain.
Dominic is, of course, trying to do the honourable thing and “save her from herself” by keeping away from her, or at least, withdrawing from her emotionally. His feelings for her are further complicated by the fact that he knew her late husband, and was actually with him when he died. Hearing Will speak so movingly about the young woman he had waiting for him at home led her to become a kind of talisman for Dominic – and he cannot bear the thought of her goodness being sullied by his tarnished name and dissolute deeds.
When we find out the truth of Dominic’s past, and the reasons behind the life of debauchery into which he launched himself following his parents’ deaths, it’s certainly something which could easily have induced someone to become a little unbalanced. But here, as with so many books featuring “rakish”, “wicked” or otherwise imperfect heroes, is where the storytelling falls down, because we’re never really provided with any reason to believe ill of Dominic other than what other people tell us during the course of the book. Whenever he’s on the page, his behaviour what one would expect of a gentleman of the period (excepting his blow-hot / blow-cold attitude towards Juliana), and I really saw nothing in him to suggest he was a rake of the first order.
The best parts of the book were undoubtedly those moments where Juliana decided to take charge of her life and go after what she wants. At first, she shies away from Dominic because of the way he makes her feel, and because of the visceral reaction he evokes in her. She sees it as a betrayal of the promise she made to her dying father-in-law to not replace Will, and feels extremely guilty. But there comes a point when she finally sees that she is entitled to have a life of her own and another chance at love, and, in a lovely scene, she finally puts her past behind her and determines to move forward. Then towards the end, when Dominic is insisting that he is not worthy of her, Juliana makes it very clear that she won’t allow him to ruin both their lives because of some misplaced sense of honour.
The Rake’s Redemption is a quick, undemanding read, which boasts an attractive central couple. The writing is decent, if a little overly simplistic at times, but if you’re in the mood for a simple, clean “trad”, this might suit.