by Kasey Michaels, historical (2011)
HQN, $7.99, ISBN 978-0-373-77591-0
The Taming Of The Rake has a pretty flimsy plot, but the characters in this story make the show. It's not everyday that I come across a romance where the heroine runs things like a first class general bent on world domination, and the hero actually finds it a turn on that she just won't stop bossing him around. This story is like Amanda Quick on speed, and I think I like it, heh.
Oliver Le Beau Blackthorn was once young and idealistic. He fancied himself in love with the beautiful Madelyn Mills-Beckman, and planned to marry her. Never mind that Madelyn's brother Thomas was an ass and Madelyn's younger sister Chelsea spooked him a bit with how scary-smart she was. Unfortunately, he realized the hard way that Madelyn was just toying with him when she laughed at him after he came courting and Thomas took a whip to poor Beau in public. Only Chelsea shed some tears over his public humiliation, and when she told him to go far away from her family, he decided to do just that. He joined the army, proved himself in battle, and came back to London, a harder and wiser man who realized now that his status as a nobleman's bastard will always put him at the fringes of respectable society.
When the story opens, Chelsea has grown into a lovely young woman, as you can surely predict. In the years since the incident with Beau, Thomas had inherited their father's title and, after a period of illness where he was convinced that he was dying, had turned into a twisted version of a God-fearing man who whose piety is egged on by a priest who is taking advantage of Thomas. When Thomas decides that Chelsea must marry this priest in order to save her soul, Chelsea decides that she's had enough of her brother and comes up with a plan.
She knows that Beau has been setting up ponzy schemes to lure Thomas into making really bad investments, so she decides that she'd help Beau with his revenge plot. Why, she'd offer to marry Beau so that he can finally humiliate her brother and even their score. In the process, she gets to avoid marrying a lecherous charlatan priest. Everyone wins, right?
Chelsea is an interesting heroine in that she breaks plenty of rules that typically apply to a romance heroine. For one, she knows that her brother and her sister are really unpleasant people and she does not even pretend to harbor any degree of loyalty or affection to them. She is also very bossy, and I must admit that there are moments when she gets on my nerves too. But since she always turns out to be right, she's earned the right to boss everyone around as far as I'm concerned. When she is introduced to the pleasures of the wedding bed, Chelsea can't get enough. This is one woman who takes life in her own hands instead of waiting for the big strong guys to come rescue her, and she's quite a character indeed. When she realizes that Beau believes that he can't love her, she doesn't wring her hands or run away from him. She stays around instead, because she knows that he loves her and she'd be there when he finally realizes it. This leads to easily one of the most adorable closing paragraph in a last chapter ever. And while Chelsea seems mightily confident in herself, she also has a sense of self-awareness about her. She's confident, but that's because she can back up her talk with action. I like her.
Beau is definitely the beta character here, but he has his moments. His past would suggest that he's some kind of alpha male, but it turns out that he's actually the manlist man of them all - he's secure enough in his masculinity to take delight in humoring Chelsea and sparring wits with her. I know he's adorable when he likes that she calls him "Oliver", even as he detests other people calling him by that name, heh. He plays off Chelsea beautifully, and he appreciates her for exactly who and what she is, which makes this romance far more believable than it otherwise would be.
Even more intriguing are Chelsea's nasty brother and sister, who turn out to be so gloriously nasty - especially Madelyn - that they actually morph into magnificent bastard types. There are moments when these two will actually steal the show from Beau and Chelsea with their delicious plotting. I especially like Madelyn because, while she is nasty and self-absorbed to the core, she is also a scheming and conniving villain whose relish at just being nasty is so infectious and even adorable. Thomas is brutish and dumb, but his opponents often underestimate him because he's not that stupid. It's actually a pity that I may not see these two again after this book, because these two nasty low lives are just too delicious to be ditched aside like that.
While the characters in this story are such fun, the plot is actually slow moving, often infuriatingly so as chapters can pass with these characters just talking and talking and talking. Oh my, and do these characters know how to talk. There are times when I can't take their incessant chatter myself. It's a good thing that these characters are so adorable, because I suspect that it will be terrible to be trapped in an elevator with these people. They will probably talk until my ears want a divorce and move to another continent. Also, the plot eventually peters out into a "So what?" manner, as the author scrambles to come up with silly subplots to fill the later parts of the book.
The Taming Of The Rake, therefore, is all about the characters. The amusing banters, the heroine's adorable running over everyone else in her path, the hero's hilarious bemusement at her antics, the bad guys - these are the reasons why this story is so much fun to read. But there is also the silly plot that takes forever to move from one point to another, a plot that eventually tapers off into a series of filler adventures. Try not to read this one for a sophisticated story, read it for the characters and the ha-ha-ha's instead.
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