Desert Isle Keeper
50 Ways to Ruin a Rake
Mellie Smithson is a chemist whose discoveries have helped her father and uncle’s textile production boom, bringing the family to new wealth. However, her reward for this is that the men want to keep that money in the family by marrying Mellie off to her cousin Ronald. Too rich for local boys and too provincial for the only other man she knows well – her father’s pupil, ducal heir Trevor Anaedsley – Mellie needs to get to London to find a man who fits. Trevor, in the meantime, needs some breathing room on his finances until an investment comes in. Despite being presented with the rudest proposal since Darcy’s, his plan – to become engaged to Mellie and then be jilted when she meets a better match – is Mellie’s only way out, so off they go.
There’s a lot of room to debate how realistic a historical setting should be, or even what the word ‘realistic’ means. 50 Ways to Ruin a Rake is not mirror-accurate. You must accept, for instance, that a wealthy and pretty young woman is going to have difficulty finding a suitor because her father is a mushroom, nouveau-riche mill owner (it is also known that her mother was a suicide; but that aspect is not played up). Trevor’s grandfather makes threats of ‘disowning’ and ‘disinheriting’ which are not legally possible, but which nobody takes seriously and are only part of one three-page argument scene anyway.
Whether or not this book works for you depends on what you want out of a historical and where your own lines are drawn. Personally, I like my historicals to feel different from the present and to be internally consistent, and this books is both. Mellie’s class is set up as an obstacle between her and Trevor, and it continues to be an obstacle elsewhere. Her sponsor Lady Eleanor is horrified by her background. Mellie is not swimming in marriage proposals form other men, and one even offers her carte blanche. For me, this makes it work.
The sex scenes in this book are sizzling because the characters are fully present in them. Mellie, the scientist, wants to experiment and explore. Trevor, the dilettante, wants to enjoy, but hold back at the same time, especially to make sure that Mellie is still a virgin when she throws him over. He tells himself that physical experiences cloud perception, that he and Mellie are just thinking of themselves as ‘in love’, except – of course – they’re not.
I enjoyed the diverse, complex personalities of the secondary characters in this book. Lady Eleanor is the guardian of social class order and so unpleasant about it that you know you’ll hate her – until she takes more care with Mellie’s reputation and success than Trevor does. Carl Rausch, the German scientist, is clearly going to be a shady villain – except he appreciates Mellie’s mind and respects her decisions, and clearly has some sort of tension going on with Lady Eleanor. Mellie’s cousin Ronnie, who looks like he’s going to be a romantic buffoon, is physically powerful and genuinely talented in his poetry, and the epilogue resolving Ronnie’s story was the most laugh-out-loud fun of the entire book. (There are actually several comical slapstick scenes, mostly involving fisticuff ‘duels’, and one participant is a turkey).
The leads read young (which they are!) and I enjoyed watching them mature. Trevor, especially, develops the confidence to reject society’s notions of what and who he should like. Overall, this is a fun and lighthearted historical that manages to find humor without making the characters sound like they stepped out of a modern romantic comedy. If that’s what you’re looking for, definitely give 50 Ways to Ruin a Rake a read.