by Caroline Linden, historical (2008)
Zebra, $5.99, ISBN 978-0-8217-8051-0
I have no idea why this book has A Rake's Guide To Seduction as its title since this is not a romantic comedy featuring some heroine wanting to get sex tips from a debauched rake. I can only imagine that the person who came up with the title is applying the same principle that Harlequin has when it comes to titles - the use of familiar key words in the title will get casual romance readers to snap the book up.
There is no "guide to seduction" in this story. What I get instead is a romantic drama with plenty of angst and well-drawn emotions threatening to overflow from the pages. I have to say this: Caroline Linden is one of those authors who go the extra mile to keep things real with her characters and their emotions, and I really appreciate and enjoy her efforts.
Anthony Hamilton used to be a rake, although even then, calling him a "rake" is pushing it. He was a wild child in his youth due to his issues with his father, but he eventually cultivated a reputation as a ladies' man when he courted investments mostly from wives of important men of the Ton in order to finance his own money-making ventures. It is not far-fetched, I'd say, to imagine that those ladies view their "investment" as a form of stud fee. At any rate, all that is behind Anthony when the story opens. This is because he realizes that he has fallen in love with his friend's sister, Celia Reece. He doesn't know whether it's because she's one of the very few people who view him as a good guy or maybe it's due to the phase of the moon on that night when he rescued her from an overzealous fellow, but he realizes that he wants to marry Celia.
Alas, Celia agrees to marry another man just when Anthony wants to make his move. Of course, the wedding can't last or there won't be a story, so Celia's brief marriage soon ends with her ending up a young widow much changed from the vibrant and flirtatious young woman that she once was. Ms Linden presents a pretty realistic depiction of Celia's unhappy marriage - there are no villains here and definitely no one-dimensional evil monster husband, just two people who thought they were in love only to grow apart when the honeymoon was over. At any rate, the widowed Celia is now morose and cynical about the existence of love.
Worried about Celia, her family decide to throw a house party to "celebrate" her return to them and hopefully get some of the old Celia that they know to come back. Her brother David happens to invite Anthony along. Anthony knows that he shouldn't accept the invitation, but he couldn't resist the opportunity to see Celia again. You can guess what happens between those two, I'm sure.
Be warned, folks: Celia and Anthony start out as very morose characters, so much so that reading those chapters can be a little depressing. Anthony is plagued by constant doubts about his value as a human being (and his ability to become a good husband to Celia) because that man is not proud at all about all those things that he did in the past. Celia is very disillusioned about how her supposed true love let her down so badly in her brief marriage. Calling her "jaded" is like calling a whale "somewhat big". It is when they finally get together that they lighten up considerably. Throughout everything, these two characters are exquisitely written. Their emotions are depicted in painstakingly clarity to the point that they feel so real to me. I laugh with them, sigh with them, and even shed a tear or two for them.
I should point out here that despite the emo factor going off the roof with both characters, Celia and Anthony do not use their issues as an excuse to behave like dolts or jerks. In fact, both characters care enough for the other person to get over themselves without any whining. This book also has one of the most intelligent approaches to a scene of the main characters being caught in a compromising position. No, I'm not spoiling the story anymore, so let's just say that Celia is not your usual "I'll never marry because I just know that he doesn't love me! Never!" idiot. She's much smarter than that, trust me. Caroline Linden is a much better author than that.
You're probably wondering why this book isn't a keeper with me. A part of me wants really badly to give this book the keeper status because of how much I enjoy reading about Celia and Anthony falling in love. The pacing can be very slow and I won't blame any reader who falls asleep early on, but I personally find the relationship too fascinating and bittersweet for words. But the other part of me, that same part that had me struck off the guest list of the fabulous parties of way too many people out there, feels that the abrupt introduction of the suspense subplot late in the story a most ill-advised misstep. This suspense subplot is so perfunctorily introduced and resolved that I wonder whether this is merely an attempt to get readers who are slowly falling asleep to wake up.
I also do not like how towards the end the author has the hero listing down all his sins to the heroine so that the heroine can justify them away or tell him that she loves him even if he has done all those things. Now, I know that it is sweet that Celia can love Anthony even with his figurative warts and all, but this particular scene is too over the top for me. Besides, some of his sins are, in my opinion, not serious enough to warrant a lifetime of sad faces. I guess that I like my bad boys to be able to retain some of their naughty streaks without having to go to confession about them.
The suspense subplot is really the deal breaker for me. Still, I can't deny that A Rake's Guide To Seduction is for a very long time a beautiful character study that has me holding on to every word in the story. Therefore, it is only appropriate that I give this book a score that appropriately demonstrates how it came this close to being a keeper, no?
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