My Fake Rake
Remember the Hollywood trend of remaking historical stories into contemporary teen romances – Clueless, She’s the Man, Ten Things I Hate About You? Would you like to read a book that does the reverse and sticks modern high schoolers in the Regency? Neither would I.
Lady Grace has had a crush on Mason Fredericks – a fellow natural scientist who, unusually, has no issue with her scholarship – for years, but he’s never noticed her as a woman. She comes up with a plan: get her friend Sebastian Holloway to make himself over as a rake and pretend to flirt with Grace. The attentions of a high-status (yeah) male will lead Mason to see her in a whole new way. But after Sebastian’s makeover, and to Grace’s surprise, the person seeing things anew is herself. Don’t worry, though – she and he will drag out this easily resolved question over the remaining hundred plus pages to ensure a good word count.
In addition to a character-driven plot that the characters refuse to drive, the book is marred by superficial, clichéd characterization. Grace’s science career… yikes. Having the characters throw science-y words around is not a substitute for giving them actual scholarly personalities. Scientist Grace and anthropologist Sebastian assume that a thirty-year-old etiquette manual is an infallible resource and never think to try observation. Our dedicated herpetologist never appears in a scene with any live animals. Grace loves using Latin nomenclature, which is not done in casual conversation by any scientist I’ve ever met. Other than read books about other cultures, I can’t figure out what Sebastian actually does. And I disliked the cliché of yet another nerd girl who was ‘above’ conventional femininity. Female scientists can still love fashion, dancing, and conversation on topics other than their academic field!
Historicals can and should address genuine social issues, but not in a way that makes their characters sound like time travelers. It’s historically plausible for Grace to object to the slave labor involved in tobacco production (although most activism was around sugar, and she seems to have no problems with sugar or Sebastian’s indigo coat), but when Sebastian opposes smoking because it “serves a ceremonial and spiritual purpose for many tribes in the Americas” and smoking “would be like stealing from them”, the author lost me. White Englishmen during the Regency era rarely blinked at the physical theft of indigenous land, property, and even individual people; I don’t buy one concerned about the metaphorical theft of tradition.
- Sebastian’s “gut churns” at the “sense of cultural and racial superiority” in Western anthropology (which it should! But I doubt it would have in 1817!)
- Sebastian and Grace want sex education for women
- Rotherby argues for measuring “true rake”-ness by pleasure brought to partners instead of quantity of conquests (another way in which this book reads like a discount version of The Countess Conspiracy)
- a not-at-all-veiled critique of negging
- Grace and her friend bemoaning the killing of animals to produce taxidermy specimens
- Grace clucking about the provenance of the Elgin marbles
- Grace being inspired by the destruction of a pond to study science so she can teach “the harmful effects of humanity on the natural world”
I’m not saying I disagree! But I live in 2019. I am not a character in a romance novel set over two hundred years ago. If an author wants to make sure their characters express the views of our current day, why write a historical?
Which brings me to my recommendation: this novel should be rewritten and released as an American teen movie set in a high school.
Science nerd Grace loves reptiles. She’s not popular with the boys, though, who see her as a freak – except, that is, for her long-time crush and lab partner Mason Fredericks, and Sebastian Holloway, with whom she spends her free periods in the library. But while Mason respects her scientific skills, he doesn’t see her as a girl. So Grace cooks up a plan. Invisible Sebastian will become a cool kid (with the help of his buddy Noel “Duke” Rotherby and the strategic removal of a pair of glasses), and ask Grace out in a way Mason can’t help but notice. But what happens when Grace realizes she likes her fake flirtation more than her crush?
Wouldn’t that be cute???
So why haven’t I given this book a D? The conceit of making over the hero instead of the heroine is cute – I like the idea that there’s nothing wrong with her, just with men who can’t see her properly (although of course she doesn’t see Sebastian properly…). And while it’s a terrible match for me because I’m someone who prizes settings, I can see this being a reasonable read for someone who doesn’t. You may also like it if you’re someone who’s just happy to see the issues listed above mentioned at all, even in an awkward and implausible way. You’ll still have the problem of two characters who can’t just have the ‘So… maybe we like each other?’ conversation for weeks, but you won’t be smacking your head like I was.
Still would be cuter with teenagers, though.