The Perfect Rake, by Anne Gracie

>> Thursday, March 02, 2006

book coverI adored Anne Gracie's The Gallant Waif, so, even though I disliked the other one of hers that I read, Tallie's Knight, I picked up The Perfect Rake (extras) when I saw it for sale online. And then I moved it up in my TBR after something KristieJ said, something about Gideon's attitude towards Prudence that sounded wonderful.

She ran from a brute...

Fleeing the harsh guardianship of her grandfather, 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...
The Perfect Rake is an unfortunately uneven book. As I write this post, I'm reading M.J. Rodgers' Beauty Vs. The Beast, a Harlequin Intrigue I started right after finishing TPR and which deals with a psychologist who's been sued for killing one of the personalities of a patient with Multiple Personalities Disorder (MPD). I found myself wishing I could have done the same to TPR, and killed the irritating personality and keep the good one. When this book is good and showing the nice personality, it's wonderful, but when the evil personality is out... ugh. Unfortunately, there just aren't enough of those good parts, and the book ends in a false note.

We start with a disturbing glimpse of the bad personality. Prudence Merridew and her four younger sisters have been living with their evil grandfather since their parents died, 10 years earlier. "Evil" is actually an understatement for what this bastard is. He's obsessed by the fact that the girls' father (his son) ran away to marry a cit's daughter, and he believes the girls are all tainted. He beats them, severely and frequently, for the slightest transgressions, and he's kept them pretty much isolated for all those 10 years.

As the book starts, he falls down the stairs while chasing after Prudence, and seeing that he will take a while to recover, the sisters take that chance to run away to their great-uncle Oswald in London. They only need a few more weeks until Prue comes of age and can become the other girls' guardian (as per their father's will), and as for money to support them, once one of them marries, she'll come into her inheritance, and they've agreed to share that money and live on that.

So here was my first problem. Smaller one first, to get it out of the way: those complicated will stipulations? Completely out of character for what we're told about the parents. Biggest problem: I didn't buy for a second that Prue and her sisters could be so untraumatized, after 10 years living in hell (and it was hellish). I think I would have bought their behaviour so much more easily if they'd been there for maybe a year, or even less. But 10 years is too long a time for Prue to have the attitude she has, especially if what we saw was representative of the behaviour they'd had to endure from their grandfather. I mean, given THAT, if Prue had always been as defiant with him, she'd have been dead!

So I was extremely doubtful as the book got going, but I soon was enjoying myself much more, as the girls got to London and I got to see the book's other personality.

Great-uncle Oswald receives the sisters with open arms in London, accepting their story of their Grandfather having sent them. He loves having them there and treats them with kindness. The only problem -and this is something they can't get him to budge from- is that, seeing that Prudence is extremely plain next to her incredibly beautiful sisters, he decides he'll fire her off first, and only then allow the other girls to come out, once Prue is engaged and they can't overshadow her and ruin her chances to get married.

The thing is, the girls need one of them to get married ASAP, which they can't tell Oswald for fear of getting him in trouble, so this just won't do. Prue is already secretly engaged to her neighbour Phillip, who's been in India for the past 4 years (something else they can't tell Oswald), and, in any case, it's doubtful that, being as plain as she is, she could manage to get engaged as soon as they need.

So smart Prue makes up a story of a secret engagement to someone who can't possibly be reached by their uncle: a duke who's known for being a hermit and not having budged from his estate in Scotland for years. But, as luck would have it, the duke has just arrived in London, and off Oswald goes to confront him. Prue rushes out to warn the poor man, but when she arrives at the duke's town house, she makes a mistake and thinks the duke's cousin, Gideon, Lord Carradice, is the duke. And so begins a kind of comedy of errors that was light and frothy and funny and witty and just generally lovely.

I think what I loved best about this is how Gideon sees Prue so differently from the way everyone else sees her. For him, Prue isn't plain. He's convinced she's spectacular, so much more beautiful than her sisters. I just loved that. It was wonderfully funny to see things through his eyes, the way he was so convinced that everyone must see Prue as the beauty he believes she is, the way he's convinced all other men must be after her as well, because, how could they not be crazy about such a spectacularly beautiful woman? He's a well-known rake, but after seeing Prue, other women just hold no attraction to him and he soon realizes he wants her forever.

Gideon and Prue have chemistry and attraction in spades. I loved their banter and the way he keeps trying to make her laugh and succeeds, even though she doesn't want to like him and be amused by him. So why is she so resistant to him, you ask? Because of that secret engagement. She gave her promise and she'll keep her promise, even if she's quickly falling in love with this man who seems to think she's beautiful and who she likes much more than she ever liked her fiancé!

It is when the sisters receive news that their grandfather is recovered and is coming after them that things start to go downhill. Gideon and his cousin, the duke, on being told why they need to run away, put themselves at their disposal and help them escape to Bath, where the men's aunt lives and can take them in.

Unfortunately, from then on, Gideon and Prudence's relationship becomes all about her engagement to Philip and how she can't possibly not fulfill her promise, whatever her wishes are, and this got really tedious, really fast. It just irritated me. Unlike Gideon, I didn't find Prudence's blind loyalty admirable, I found it stupid.

To hang on that way to a promise made to a guy who -possible spoilers here, highlight the following (the gist is: he treated her abominably)- abandoned her with her grandfather when she was 16, knowing full well that the old goat thrashed her any chance he got; and not only that: he left after seducing her (and there are certain hints there that it wasn't quite consensual, as Prudence's mention of Philip getting a certain result after applying "his masculine strength" seems to imply), and, again, knowing her grandfather, he didn't come running when she wrote to him about being pregnant. Hell, even not knowing he grandfather, not coming after that particular letter should have been enough for Prudence to break that engagement!. (end spoiler) Argh! It was SO obvious the guy was a real bastard, that Prudence looked like an absolute idiot for not considering their connection severed YEARS before. And when he finally showed up, spouting nonsense, she should have kicked his ass, not allow him to make her promise not to go out in public. Stupid, irritating woman. And then to believe his lies about Gideon. Stupid, irritating, peabrained woman!

This part of the book also shows much of that darker, horrid personality that doesn't go at all with the part of the book that I loved. Certain revelations Prudence made were just much too painful and traumatic to have been overcome so effortlessly! And then to find out that all the suffering was unnecessary was too much for me.

And another complaint: the actual ending of the book. In the good parts, this is a very sensual book, even if Gideon and Prudence never do much than some passionate kissing. But then, when all that other crap takes over, that aspect of their relationship disappears, only to return in the very end, when I didn't care anymore. The last 15 or so pages are basically nothing but love scenes (yes, sceneS. Three or four of them, IIRC), and I was terribly tempted to skim them, because, at that point, I didn't think they could add much. I was right, and they didn't. Their inclusion there is a puzzling choice. It kind of felt as if the book had started out as a Trad Regency and then the author was asked to turn it into a single-title historical and told by her editor it needed some sex. And since it would have been much harder to write them into the original story, she just decided to cram them in at the end.

Hmm, I like that theory. And actually, I think this book would have done MUCH better as a Trad Regency. It didn't need the extra length. Or rather, the extra length was just padding, and it made the second part of the book boring as hell. Add to that the uncomfortable back and forth between light and frothy and painful and traumatic, and this was a very strange book.

My grade? That's really, really difficult. If I could split it up, I'd probably give the parts about Gideon and Prue's initial relationship an A, and the other parts a D. I thought maybe a B-, but given that it ends so badly and left me with a bad taste in my mouth, I think I'll go with a C+. Too bad.

PS - A minor nitpick: "Montigua del Fuego"? Doesn't sound right to me, though I guess it's possible. What isn't possible is that Lady Augusta Montigua del Fuego spent those years in Argentina, since I'm pretty sure it wouldn't have been called that way back then in 1816. I need to google it, but my feeling is the Argentina name didn't appear until later. At the time this book is set, it would have been Provincias Unidas del Río de la Plata: the United Provinces of the River Plata (or River Plate, as it's sometimes called in English). Well, I said it was a minor nitpick, didn't I?


Post a Comment

Blog template by

Back to TOP