The Notorious Rake, by Mary Balogh

>> Thursday, January 05, 2006

In the August 1st, 2005 ATBF column , one of the AAR reviewers listed her favourite Trad Regencies and why they were favourites. One of them was Mary Balogh's The Notorious Rake, which she mentions she thinks of as "the stalker book". Her comments are about three quarters down this page.

For some reason, those comments really struck a chord with me, and I became really desperate to read this book. Unfortunately, it was out of print and pretty pricey online, so it took me a while to get it. I was able to only when a friend helped me out as a birthday present!

Lord Edmund Waite was everything that Lady Mary Gregg despised in a man. He was lewd, lascivious, mocking--the most notorious and successful rake in the realm. Happily, Mary had nothing to fear from this lord of libertines. A bluestocking like her could never tempt a man whose taste ran to pretty playthings for his pleasures.

How startled Mary was to find herself the object of Lord Waite's determined desires. But even more surprising was her reaction to his shocking advances. How could she remain a lady with this man who knew so well how to make her feel like a woman
Considering the impossibly high expectations I had for this one, I was very pleased to realize it didn't disappoint. An A-.

At the time when I read this one (early December), there was a really interesting discussion at one of the AAR message boards about romance novels in which the initial sex takes place early on, and reading The Notorious Rake then felt very apropos.

Lady Mary Gregg is a very proper widow. She feels nothing but contempt for Lord Edmond Waite, who she considers to be the worst kind of rake. As for Edmond, he's never even noticed Mary, except in the most vague of ways. Women like her just hold no interest for him.

And then one night a hostess' thoughtlessness results in their being forced to endure each other's company in Vauxhall Gardens and... you know those "we were stranded in the snow and forced to share body heat" stories? Well, this is a slightly different twist on that situation. As Mary and Edmond are taking a walk neither of them wanted to take (Edmond thought it would be rude not to offer, while Mary thought it woud be rude not to accept), they're caught in a freak thunderstorm that goes on for hours and hours and have to take refuge in a gazebo. The thing is, Mary is terrified of thunderstorms, due to an experience she had when she was following the drum with her late husband, so being caught in one out of doors terrifies her and makes her hysterical. She pretty much throws herself at Edmond, in her terror, and they have sex, even more than once.

The following morning, Mary is horrified by what she did and wants nothing more than to forget the previous evening. That was simply NOT her! For Edmond, on the other hand, the events of the evening had quite a different effect. Sex with Mary quite simply blew his mind. He becomes obsessed with her and follows her everywhere, arriving uninvited at her literary salons, engineering circumstances so that they are thrown together and generally pursuing without pause.

I found it very interesting that Edmond's behaviour, or rather, the view society has of him, is portrayed in a very different way than I've got used to in historical romance novels. Usually, a rake is admired by all the men and desired by all the women by virtue of his very rakishness. Not Edmond. "Decent" people don't like him at all. Mary's friends disapprove of his every action and they try to protect her from him. He's very definitely not a figure to be admired by society, not quite pariah, but not universally received, either.

Anyway, as Edmond's pursuit of Mary intensifies, so do his feelings, and we begin to get glimpses of what's behind his libertine's façade. We start out by seeing only this mask Edmond shows to the world, the lecher, the dissolute man, the conscienceless villain who would find pleasure in contaminating a decent, respectable widow, the man who was responsible for the death of his own brother. But slowly, slowly, this mask begins to slip and his vulnerabilities begin to emerge, and Mary starts to realize that behind it, there remained something of the studious young man so betrayed by everyone he loved.

I absolutely loved the scenes showing the way his and Mary's relationship deepened, and I was especially affected by the scenes of his reconciliation with his family. I almost cried with those, though I did think he was a bit to quick to forgive and forget. His father and brother were, at the very least, just as much to blame as Edmond for his other brother's death. In fact, my own opinion is that they were *more* to blame. What would have happened if Edmond had been the one to break his neck?

I wanted them to realize that the only murder in that episode was the one that was committed by them, to acknowledge that Richard's death had been an accident, but that in their grief and anger, they had murdered the man Edmond was up until that time, with their hurtful and baseless accusations.

Or, not exactly murdered, but beaten into a coma, because during the book, the young Edmond wakes up from it. This was probably one of the most believable "redemption of the rake" stories I've ever read. Just beautiful!

Oh, and as a final note, TNR is supposed to be the last in a trilogy that includes The Trysting Place and A Counterfeit Betrothal, but I was perfectly fine even never having read those. Both HTF. Hmph!


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