A Rake's Redemption
Donna Simpson’s latest release combines a quietly touching love story, a likable heroine, and a decidedly flawed hero in a sweet but not altogether satisfying tale. Despite a few problems, I enjoyed this, my first Simpson Regency, quite a bit.
Lawrence Jamison is the Earl of Hardcastle, better known as “Hardhearted Hardcastle,” and the shoe certainly fits. As the story opens, he has just won the entire estate of a young Baron, leaving the man and his family destitute. Rather than being moved by their plight, he becomes enraged when he arrives at Baron Fossey’s London townhouse to find that his prey has fled the city, pleading for time. He immediately sets off on horseback to find Fossey’s estate – now his own, by way of a hand of euchre – and gets himself badly beaten and robbed by a band of highwaymen. When he awakens in the care of a vicar’s daughter – whom he briefly mistakes for an angel – he is determined to get well, and get back to his mission of vengeance. But soon the generous influence of the unselfish vicar’s daughter and her unusual father begin to make Hardcastle wonder what he really wants.
Phaedra Gillian is very much a spinster at age 27, albeit an attractive one. She lives happily with her father, taking care of him, and generally doing good works. When the handsome stranger is attacked and beaten senseless, she immediately takes him in, since she is the only one in the vicinity with sufficient medical knowledge to treat him. But this opportunity to do some more good soon turns into something more, as she finds herself growing ever more attached to the mysterious “Mr. Lawrence”. She discovers too late that his nickname, Hardhearted, is all too fitting. By then, she has fallen in love with the worst sort of rake.
Phaedra is a decent and very sympathetic character, although when Hardcastle privately describes her as “irritatingly perfect,” he’s not too far off the mark. Still, she is basically a good person without being cloying, and her sensible nature is an appealing complement to her general good-heartedness. The only thing I really had a problem with in her was that she fell in love with the hero. Not that he isn’t eventually going to be a worthy man, but he has a long way to go in his redemption when she realizes her feelings for him. At that point, he is still completely determined and totally unrepentant in his plan to seize his rightful winnings – thereby ruining countless lives – all in the name of his precious honor. I had a hard time believing that even such a forgiving person as Phaedra could overlook this unbending and deliberate cruelty, and still fall in love with the hero.
For his part, Hardcastle is not actually a monster, but while one can certainly understand where he’s coming from (in conjunction with his tortured past), and perhaps even sympathize a bit, given the demons that drive him to such lengths, it’s very difficult to believe that anyone could fall in love with him in the midst of such callous behavior. He does make progress toward his redemption by the end of the book, and had Phaedra realized her love for him then, I might have been more convinced.
In addition to the hero and heroine, Phaedra’s father, Mr. Gillian, plays a notable part in this novel, and is quite memorable himself. A deeply philosophical and non-judgmental man, he instigates perhaps as much of the changes in Hardcastle as Phaedra does, and adds quite a bit of color to the story. Debating points of theory, and serving as the sort of father figure that Hardcastle never really had, he is a standout character, and often steals scenes from the leading couple.
Overall, this is a memorable book with well-realized characters and a straightforward plot. While I had problems with the hero and his lovability at certain points in time, I thought the story as a whole was thoughtfully written, and it won’t be soon forgotten.