Too Hot For A Rake
by Pearl Wolf, historical (2010)
Zebra, $6.99, ISBN 978-1-4201-0481-3


Let me get this out of the way first: Too Hot For A Rake is going to give any reader who is particular about historical authenticity and accuracy a heart attack. I can only imagine their reaction to that scene early in the story where the heroine climbs out of her bedroom window to stand by the road side and wait to flag down a passing hackney.

Then again, the plot should be warning enough for those readers to stay away. Helena Fairchild, our heroine, decides that she is going to marry her childhood crush and fiancé Mr Darlington now. She sneaks into his bedroom one night, throws off her clothes, and gets into his bed while hoping that they will compromised come tomorrow, with a happily ever after to follow shortly. It turns out that the man whose penis she is fondly caressing is actually Lord Desmond Bannington, a guest of her Mr Darlington. Mr Darlington discovers these two in a most compromising situation indeed, and as you can imagine, the engagement is over.

Blue and despondent, Helena eventually agrees to her family's idea of taking a trip to Land's End while waiting for any potential scandal to die down. Helena will visit her mother's godmother, who turns out to be Desmond's grandmother. It seems like these two will be seeing a lot of each other as they both end up looking into local intrigues that threaten Desmond's life.

I am not too knowledgeable about life in England in 1818, but reading this story manages to get me to scratch my head. Helena's father, the Duke of Heatham, has no problems with his daughter getting engaged to a mere solicitor but he is against her marriage to a Marquis (Desmond is the Marquis of Waverley). Shouldn't that be the other way around? And then we have Helena, the daughter of a Duke, willingly taking up a broom to clean alongside the servants when she's not speaking to and dealing with her abigail like her equal. There are more of such head-scratching moments in this story, let me warn you, so really, any reader fussy about historical authenticity should approach this one with caution.

The problem goes beyond mere details: the characters in this story have the mindset of a cast in a modern-day American sitcom. Helena's attitude toward sex is way too casual and she doesn't seem to understand the true extent of social ruination that can arise from her casual caressing of private parts of men who are not her lawful husband. Even her family treats her broken engagement with Mr Darlington (try not to confuse him with Bannington, heh) like some minor upset that will past after a few days and everything will be back to normal afterward. Desmond is a rake who is trying to be respectable after he has inherited his title, but his attitude is more of that of a modern-day man rather than a man in the early 19th century. It's the same with the secondary characters here. All of them come off like modern folks playing dress-up games.

Still, there is a certain je ne sais quoi quality to the writing that keeps me reading. It's not that Ms Wolf is a talented wordsmith - her prose tend to be on the clunky side, there are many annoying instances of head-hopping, and there are also many scenes involving secondary characters that add nothing to the main story line. Despite all these problems, I find myself unable to resist liking Helena and Desmond. Helena is brazen and silly, but I find it endearing how she charges ahead and does what she has to do to get what she wants once she's decided on wanting something. Her philosophy in life is that, as she is the daughter of a Duke, she's calling the shots and making the rules. I can't help it: I like such attitude, even if it leads to some really anachronistic and even stupid behavior on her part. Desmond has his charming moments too.

I think the key to enjoying the finer aspects of Too Hot For A Rake is to somehow overlook the anachronisms, the clutter in the writing, and the occasional bouts of utter stupidity from the main characters. It's not easy, and I'm not asking you to try, but somehow, I find myself being able to finish this book and even getting a chuckle or two out of it. I'm not saying that this book is great, but... je ne sais pas pourquoi. I suspect that Ms Wolf has some magic voodoo tricks up her sleeves that would bear watching in the future.

Rating: 70


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