I’ve read more than my share of badly written, mundane historical romances featuring a handsome rake and a feisty, foot-stomping heroine. Most of the time, I sigh, toss the book and forget about it. St. Raven has a handsome rake for a hero and a heroine who is an adventuress at heart. But unlike wallpaper rakes and paper doll heroines, these two are wonderfully real.
Cressida Mandeville is in trouble. Her father has lost their home, Stokley Manor, gaming with the disgusting Lord Crofton. Cressida has agreed to go to a party at her former home with Lord Crofton and while there, she plans to swipe a statue her father brought back from India. Crofton is unaware that the statue is filled with jewels. While they are traveling to Stokley Manor, Crofton and Cressida are set upon by the highwayman, Le Corbeau. They are not frightened, Le Corbeau does not harm his captives, but suddenly he takes off on his horse with Cressida.
Le Corbeau is really Tristan Tregallows, Duke of St. Raven, who knows Crofton and has been invited to the party where Cressida, unbeknownst to her, is to be the main attraction. He takes Cressida to his home, Nun’s Close, but she does not seem to be grateful for her rescue. Tris finds out Cressida’s plan, and agrees help her. They will go in disguise to steal the statue and its jewels. But their plan does not go smoothly.
Cressida and Tris are attracted to each other almost immediately. But since he is My Lord Duke and she is not of his class, they both feel nothing can come of their attraction. Cressida, while not prudish, is not a woman who can accept the casual infidelity of the upper classes, and Tris is a rake. Nun’s Close has been the scene of orgies – more tasteful than Lord Crofton’s – but orgies nonetheless. Tris speaks of having a duchess for heirs and a mistress for pleasure. This is unthinkable to a woman like Cressida.
Tris and Cressida are the best things in the book. They are real and vivid, they grow and change during the course of the story, and they are well suited for each other. The sexual tension between them is so powerful that it all but ignites the pages, and a scene where Tris introduces Cressida to the delights of massage gets my vote for the most sensual scene I have read in a long time.
There are many characters and a lot of story in St. Raven, so much so that there were times I had to backtrack. We are introduced to Cressida and Tris’s families, we meet the real Le Corbeau, and Lord Uffham from Hazard makes an appearance. St. Raven also mentions his friends Beth and Lord Arden from An Unwilling Bride, which ties this book to Beverley’s Company of Rogues, and there is much more going on as well. There is so much going on that the book felt a bit overstuffed and the ending was overly prolonged. And while the issue of Tris’ and Cressida’s difference in station is a big problem early on, it is dismissed rather lightly at the end.
But I am not going to complain too much. Even if it’s not quite Jo Beverley’s best book, St. Raven is still better than most historical romances out there and I can recommend it with some caveats.