Tuesday, June 29, 2010

"A Rake's Guide to Seduction," Caroline Linden

The Chick: Lady Bertram, nee Celia Reese. Once a naive, innocent girl, an unhappy marriage destroyed her illusions. However, when family friend Anthony Hamilton starts paying his attentions at a family house party, could it be possible to love again?
The Rub: Her first marriage was also supposed to be a love match, so how well can she trust her own judgment?
Dream Casting: Carey Mulligan.

The Dude: Anthony Hamilton, Viscount Langford. Once, he thought it was too late to pay court to lovely Celia, but now that she's widowed, it might just the the right time to tell her how he's felt about her for years.
The Rub: However, with his scandalous reputation, is he truly worthy for her hand?
Dream Casting: Lost in Austen's Tom Riley.

The Plot:

Celia: Guess what? I know you're nicer than everyone says you are.

Anthony: Wow, I should totally marry you before someone else d--

Celia: Guess what? I'm ENGAGED!

Anthony: ... crap.

Four Years Later

Celia: Guess what? Marriage sucks. Widowhood, albeit better, also sucks.

Anthony: I still want you after all this time, but I'm so unworthy!

Celia: Guess what? I think we should have sex.

Anthony: ...sounds good to me!

Celia: Guess what? I think we should also get married.

Anthony: Are you sure?

11-Hour Plot Gimmicks: Are we early? Have we ruined things between you and Anthony yet?

Celia: Oh piss off, you guys. We're getting married!

Anthony: HOORAY!

Romance Convention Checklist

1 Fake Rake

1 Wary Widow

1 Persnickety Parent

1 Absent Douchebag Parent

1 Delightful Uncle

3 Slutty Friends

1 Erotic Foot Massage

1 Fake Wife

1 Romantically Lacklustre and Also Possibly Insane Rival

2 Supportive Brothers

2 Uses of Hero as Human Punching Bag

The Word: Continuing on my with my RITA-Reading challenge, I read Caroline Linden's A Rake's Guide to Seduction. Despite its close title to Victoria Dahl's A Rake's Guide to Pleasure, the plot of this unexpectedly sweet story is closer to Carolyn Jewel's Scandal, albeit softer around the edges - which makes it pretty aaaawkward since they're both nominated for the same RITA this year.

In both cases, we have the Wary Widow burned by a love match gone bad and the Rake who adores her but must prove he's different from the rest. In the case of Rake's Guide, however, Anthony Hamilton is more like a Fake Rake. While he's not a altar boy, the greater part of his black reputation is the result of gossip springing from the unorthodox way he was forced to maintain himself after his earl father kicked him out.

It seems the only person in the world who's willing to look past the tall tales and see him for who he really is, is Celia Reese, the kindhearted sister of one of Anthony's few friends. After the two share a quiet conversation at a ball, Anthony realizes the depth of his feelings for her, and after taking some time to try and clean up his reputation and get his affairs in order, he goes to Celia's brother the Duke of Exeter for permission to court her -- only to learn she's already accepted another man's suit.

Celia marries Lord Bertram (nicknamed Bertie) in a love match, but through the author's use of journal entries, the reader witnesses the gradual, painful decline of their marriage over four years. One point Linden has over Jewel is her refusal to completely demonize Bertie, even though he was still a terrible husband and a poor match for Celia. The author demonstrates the other factors in the couple's lives (a sickly father-in-law, isolation in the country, differing interests, etc.) that all contributed to the collapse of the marriage.

After Bertie dies, Celia is freed from their relationship, but she's no longer the innocent, free-spirited girl she once was. After four years at her husband's country estate, isolated from the friends and family she was too ashamed to admit the truth of her marriage to, returning to her loving family isn't the joyful reunion her brothers and mother expected. In a well-intentioned but misguided attempt to cheer her up, her mother hosts an enormous houseparty and invites hordes of eligible bachelors. Distressed by the attention but unwilling to admit so to her family, Celia finds unexpected refuge with Anthony, who was invited at her brother's behest.

Now that Celia is free to marry again, Anthony sees his opportunity but must struggle with his own reluctance. He realizes marriage is no longer high on Celia's Favourite Things list, nor does he wish to impose on her while she is still emotionally fragile. As well, his reputation remains as nasty as ever thanks to misunderstanding, misinformation, and the public's love of the scandalous villain. Anthony is an easy target, and he has no desire to bring Celia into the crossfire.

As a result, his seduction (if it can even be called that) is sweet and slow, based more on affection and emotional understanding than physical desire (although that does play a part). Unlike Sophie from Scandal, Celia isn't vehemently opposed to marriage to Anthony, but she does want to make sure she knows him well enough to take the plunge. True, she has lovey-dovey feelings, but she had those for Bertie when she'd barely known him two months, and look how that turned out in the long run.

As such, I would consider Rake's Guide far lower in conflict than Scandal, despite the similarities in storyline. While lovely and slow by itself, put beside Scandal, Rake's punches seem a little pulled. Anthony's not a real rake, after all, and Celia, unlike Sophie, already knows Anthony's a good dude and just needs time to think. As well, I suspect in a last-ditch effort to raise tension, some silly plot developments (a fake wife and a murderous villain) pop up in the last couple of chapters, but without any real effect on the plot.

That being said, the character arcs in this story are nicely done - particularly Celia's. I could definitely tell the difference between pre-marriage Celia and post-marriage Celia, and understand the numbness she can't help but feel despite being in the midst of a party. I liked the subtle tension between Celia and the people trying to cheer her without understanding the source of her discomfort.

If I had to choose between Scandal and Rake's Guide, Scandal would win by an easy margin. However, that doesn't mean A Rake's Guide to Seduction isn't a good book on its own.

1 comment:

  1. I've heard about this author before but have never tried her. I might have to give her a go now. Thx for the review.