She ran from a brute…
Fleeing violent tyranny, Prudence Merridew escapes with her beautiful younger sisters to London. One of them must marry—and fast. To act as her sisters’ chaperone, Prudence invents a secret engagement to a reclusive duke…But when the duke arrives unexpectedly in London, she needs his help to avert disaster.
…into the arms of a rake
Aristocratic Gideon, handsome, rakish and with a strong frivolous streak, casually hijacks Prudence’s game, awarding himself a stolen kiss or three along the way. Used to managing sisters and elderly men, Prudence is completely out of her depth with a charming, devious and utterly irresistible rake. And her plot goes terribly — if deliciously—awry…
This is my second year taking part in Super Wendy’s Multi-Blog TBR Challenge, and even though I don’t read the various romance sub-genres widely, I’ve nonetheless managed to find something in my TBR pile to fit the prompts each month. But I’m afraid I’m going to wuss out for the first time. November’s prompt is “It’s all about the hype” – and I don’t have anything that fits the bill. For one thing, historical romances don’t attract that sort of attention any more and for another, as an ex-PR professional, one whiff of hype is enough to make me head for the hills and almost guarantee I’m NOT going to read the book in question!
So instead, I decided to pick up a book from my TBR pile that has been recommended to me various times and is regarded as one of those that every self-respecting historical romance reader should have read. I don’t have too many of those on my TBR these days, and while Anne Gracie’s The Perfect Rake is no Lord of Scoundrels or Flowers from the Storm, it’s a thoroughly enjoyable story which, while mostly light-hearted and humorous, is nonetheless peppered with some darker themes and incidents which add weight to the overall texture and provide a necessary counterpoint to a book which could otherwise have turned into a farce.
It’s unusual to open an historical romance on a shocking scene, but The Perfect Rake does just that, as our heroine, Prudence Merridew has to rescue her youngest sister, Grace, from the severe beating being inflicted upon her by their vicious, maniacal grandfather. The five girls were left to his guardianship following the death of their parents, and he frequently beats and abuses them all. When the old man falls and breaks his leg chasing Prudence down the stairs, she decides, once and for all, that they must get away before one of them is killed. With their grandfather confined to bed, and with the help of the local doctor, Prudence concocts a scheme which sees them away to London to stay with their great-uncle Oswald. In a few weeks, Prue will be twenty-one, and the guardianship of her sisters will revert to her; and if one of them can marry quickly, the fortune left them by their parents will become available to them. With her sisters being such beauties, Prudence is utterly convinced that they will attract the right sort of male attention, and so she has high hopes of their being able to escape their grandfather for good.
Great-uncle Oswald, a fashionable and very kind older gentlemen, is delighted to see his five nieces, and is not only keen to have them stay with him, but also kits them out with new wardrobes and agrees to sponsor their débuts in society. There is, however, an unforeseen snag when Oswald, believing that anyone who sees the younger sisters will not look twice at Prudence, decides that he will “fire her off” alone, and not allow her sisters to appear in public until she has attracted a suitor. She is dismayed – this was not part of her plan at all, and besides, she regards herself as betrothed to Philip Otterbury, a young man employed in one of her grandfather’s businesses out in India, so cannot possibly contract another engagement.
Desperate to find a way to change her great-uncle’s mind, Prudence tells him she is betrothed to the reclusive Duke of Dinstable, knowing that the duke lives far away in Scotland and never leaves his estate. Unfortunately, however, the duke has decided it’s time to find himself a wife and has just arrived in London. Frantic, Prudence goes to his town house early the next morning to pre-empt Uncle Oswald’s call, and finds herself face-to-face with the handsomest – and most annoying – man she’s ever met.
Lord Gideon Caradice is actually the duke’s cousin, and has a reputation as a rake of the first order. Beneath the façade, however, is a truly good, kind-hearted man with a protective streak a mile wide. He’s adorable – gorgeous, funny and charming and even though his flippancy annoys Prudence, she can’t help but be amused by him and struck by his good-looks.
Their conversation here sets the tone for most of their interchanges throughout the book, which are frequently laugh-out-loud funny, often insightful and sometimes beautifully tender. Prudence has become used to thinking of herself as the ugly-duckling of the family, yet she is not envious of her sisters or bitter, wanting only the best for them. So it comes as a major surprise to her to realise that to Gideon, SHE is the beautiful one and he hasn’t even noticed her sisters.
“Plain? Why the devil does everyone keep saying she is plain?” declared Gideon in exasperation. “Do you all need spectacles?”
Where Prudence has looked at herself and seen a small, freckled, unfashionably red-haired young woman, Gideon sees a spirited, curvaceous beauty who trades him quip for quip and heats his blood. I do love the “rake felled by love” trope, and there’s no doubt that Gideon falls fast and hard for Prudence. She is equally smitten, but holds herself back; at first, she thinks his compliments are just the offhand flirtations of a hardened rake, and also feels bound by her betrothal to Philip. Prudence doesn’t take her promises lightly, and her loyalty is another of the things Gideon loves about her, even though, in this instance, it works against him.
Both principals are beautifully drawn characters and the reader is left in no doubt that they are perfect for each other. Given his background as the child of an unhappy marriage, Gideon could easily have been one of those stereotypical brooding heroes who swears off love, but he isn’t. There is a hint of darkness there, but he covers it with a lovely self-deprecating charm and his quick wit, often concealing his keen intelligence behind a buffoonish mask. The depth of his affection for Prudence is wonderful to see, and she truly blossoms under his care. She’s been holding her family together for so long, shoring up her sisters’ spirits by telling them stories of their young lives in Italy:
“We were all born in Italy, in a house filled with sunshine and laughter and love and happiness, and I promise you, no matter how bad it seems, one day we shall all live like that again. With sunshine and laughter and love and happiness. I promise!”
– and of their loving parents, vowing that she will get them away from their nightmarish life; and I loved that she at last found someone who could relieve her of some of that burden.
As is obvious, I really enjoyed The Perfect Rake, although I do have a couple of minor niggles. I’ve already mentioned that the opening is shocking, and while I don’t have a problem with that, I found the sudden change from dark to light once the girls have arrived in London to be a little jarring. I had the same feeling towards the end of the book when the mood again changes abruptly – this time in the opposite direction, and takes a turn for the overly melodramatic. What worked better were the hints dropped throughout the story about Prudence’s past and the truly disgusting treatment she received at the hands of the men who were supposed to care for her. It’s that which makes her story all the more uplifting; she suffered mistreatment and a terrible tragedy and yet she is still able to find it within herself to face the world and to fall in love.
Ms Gracie’s writing flows beautifully, and the humour in the book never feels artificial or forced. There is a strong cast of secondary characters including Prudence’s sisters and their formidable Aunt Agatha, the wonderfully unconventional widow of a South American nobleman. In spite of my small reservations, I’d definitely recommend The Perfect Rake to anyone looking for a light-hearted read with a bit of substance to it.