Redeeming the Roguish Rake
Liz Tyner’s Redeeming the Roguish Rake treads the well-worn path of rakish hero redeemed by love – in this case, the love of a vicar’s daughter. It’s a trope I generally enjoy, as it’s always fun to watch the world-weary hero falling head-over-heels for the last woman he’d ever have expected to fall for, and the proper young lady entertaining improper thoughts about a man she should, by rights, despise. The book gets off to a strong start when our hero, Fenton Foxworthy, a devil-may-care young man who has a smirk and a glib remark for everyone and a penchant for proposing to other men’s wives, is beaten up and left for dead while on a journey into the country to visit his father. Luckily for him, he is found by the daughter of the local vicar who arranges for him to be taken to the vicarage where she can tend him.
Fox’s injuries are serious. The author never goes into specific detail, other than to tell us that his face has been particularly badly beaten, to such an extent that when he initially recovers consciousness, it’s difficult for him to speak because his jaw is so painful. His inability to tell the vicar and his daughter who he is leads to a misapprehension when they assume Fox must be the new vicar who is coming to take over the parish at the behest of the earl (Fox’s father). The Reverend Whitelow is advancing in years and is being encouraged to take a pension, and knowing that a younger man is coming to replace him, has hopes that the new vicar will marry Rebecca and ensure her future comfort and safety.
It’s some time before Fox can speak, and the author instead treats us to his inner monologue, which is often quite funny, as he listens to the vicar and Rebecca completely misconstruing his attempts at communication. In the end, he decides to give up and go along with their supposition that he’s a vicar – they’ll find out the truth soon enough and he’ll cross that bridge when he comes to it.
Fox gradually regains his speech, although to start with it’s hesitant and painful. The author nicely develops the growing relationship between him and Rebecca as Fox realises that the vicar’s daughter he’d thought rather plain is not plain at all, and finds himself drawn to her goodness. Rebecca – who had been rather resigned to marrying the ‘new vicar’ – discovers that she actually likes him and, in spite of his lumpy, bruised face, that she finds him quite attractive. Things come to a head when Rebecca’s father finds them embracing each other – at which point Fox does the honourable thing and proposes – for the first time in his life, to a woman who is actually free to marry him.
This happens at around a quarter of the way through the book, but after this things go off the rails. Rebecca discovers Fox’s identity shortly afterwards when his father comes looking for the ‘imposter’ who is passing himself off as the new vicar. Naturally she and her father are horrified and she tries to cry off, but for some reason I couldn’t quite fathom, Fox insists he wants to go ahead with the marriage. His father is delighted – he’s long been worried about his wastrel son and on at him to settle down; having known Rebecca since she was a child, he believes her steadying influence is just what Fox needs and is pleased with his choice, in spite of their difference in social station.
Rebecca’s father, however, is not at all happy at the thought of handing his daughter over to a man whose name is always in the newspapers thanks to some exploit or other and tries to dissuade her. But Rebecca believes – I’m not quite sure why, but she seems to take an offhand comment by the earl to mean he’ll throw her father out otherwise – that marrying Fox will mean she can ensure that her father will always have a roof over his head, and so, she agrees to the marriage.
From here on in, I couldn’t work out what characters motivations were or what was happening between them. It’s clear that Rebecca is uncomfortable with her new station, worries she doesn’t fit in and doesn’t like having nothing to do all day. Her life as a vicar’s daughter saw her constantly on the go, visiting parishioners, caring for the sick, helping her father – and now she is at a loose end. Fox seems annoyed at her for being worried, but is more intent on finding the men who attacked him and exacting revenge – something he is also aware his new wife is not in favour of. Fox’s sense of self-worth seems very much bound up in his looks; his parents are estranged and live separately; he lost his older sister to childbirth a few years back and it seems the family has not recovered from it … there are interesting plot points thrown in, but there is little or no explanation as to how these relate to the story being told or its characters. I don’t like being hit over the head with information, but similarly, I don’t like allusions so vague that trying to work out where and how they fit takes me completely out of the story, which happened frequently. Fox and Rebecca have these odd, roundabout conversations that don’t make sense – they never seem to say anything directly about how they feel, and it’s not until quite late on that Fox realises Rebecca is really quite unwell and takes her back to the country to stay with her father, while he visits the earl and rides over to the vicarage to spend his days with his wife. The story starts to make more sense at this point, but we’re almost at the end, and the ILYs which are exchanged just before that come out of nowhere and feel as though the author had suddenly realised she needed to put them in somewhere before writing ‘The End’.
I also couldn’t get much of a handle on the characters. Fox is perhaps the better defined of the two, but Rebecca is mostly an enigma and I just couldn’t warm to her. She’s rather starchy and prim, with nothing much, other than a dedication to duty, to recommend her. She doesn’t seem to have a sense of humour – which is a huge problem given that Fox is the sort of man with a quip for every occasion and who enjoys a good laugh – and all she seems to do is mope in silence. There’s no chemistry between them, and given they are so severely mis-matched, their HEA is unbelievable.
In general, I’m a fan of Mills & Boon/Harlequin Historicals and have read and reviewed a number of very good ones over the past few years. But one has to take the rough with the smooth, and I’m afraid Redeeming the Roguish Rake definitely falls into the ‘rough’ category.