Taken by the Rake
Shana Galen continues her Scarlet Chronicles series of novels set in the early days of the French Revolution with Taken by the Rake, in which a young Englishwoman – who happens to be a talented forger – working with the League of the Scarlet Pimpernel in order to provide suitably ‘authentic’ documentation for the aristocrats being smuggled across to England, becomes caught up in one man’s personal crusade to rescue the children of the King and Queen of France. Ms. Galen’s familiarity with the Parisian locations and the politics and history of the period shine through, and she really knows how to pull the reader in, crafting an exciting opening set-piece in which the League orchestrates the escape of the former Marquis de Montagne from prison as part of their plan to rescue the doomed French Queen.
Laurent Bourgogne has spent the last five months incarcerated in La Force, expecting every day that his name would be on the list of executions scheduled, wearily resigned every day when it was not. Escape is an impossibility and he knows it’s just a matter of time – until is literally dragged from the prison courtyard by a large man who thrusts a piece of paper into his hand which bears the symbol of a small, red flower and directs him to an address – 6 Rue du Jour.
Honoria Blake followed in her late father’s footsteps, becoming an expert on Roman antiquities and then taking up a position at the newly founded British Museum, spending most of her time there identifying and cataloguing pieces acquired for the museum’s various collections. But she began to feel restless with the smallness of her world and wanted adventure, to do something to make a difference – which is how she comes to be residing in Paris, at a safe-house used by the League of the Scarlet Pimpernel, forging papers and passports for the people they rescue from Madame la Guillotine.
Even in a city in as much uproar as Paris, the last thing Honoria expects is to find a man covered in blood standing on the doorstep. Recognising he must be a nobleman on the run, she pulls him inside, and sets about tending his wounds and offering him a place to rest – even though he seems to be just as arrogant and undeserving as all the aristos who have not been so fortunate as to keep their heads.
When news comes that Marie Antoinette has been removed from the Temple Prison – where she was housed along with her sister and her children – Laurent is dismayed. He knows that the reason he was freed from La Force was because of his specialist knowledge of the Temple; he grew up alongside the royal family and has a detailed knowledge of the Temple and its grounds and the League had planned to have him draw up some plans of the place that they could use to effect a rescue. With the Queen’s removal, however, their plans have changed and instead, Laurent is to be shipped off to England straight away – but he adamantly refuses to go. He’s known the ten-year-old Madame Royale (the queen’s daughter) since she was a baby, and he is most certainly not about to allow her to remain in prison and then to take her place in the tumbril. It might be too late for her mother, but he is determined to rescue the little girl and her brother, the Dauphin, and transport them to safety.
When the League refuses to accede to his plan, Laurent, in desperation, grabs Honoria and with a knife to her throat, drags her to the secret passage he’d noted the night before and out into the city. With nothing more than the clothes on their backs, and most importantly, without the red, white and blue cockade that would mark them as loyal republicans, they are alone in a hostile city where danger and betrayal lurk around every corner. Needless to say, Honoria isn’t best pleased at his having used her as a hostage and at first, does everything she can think of to escape or persuade him to return to the safe house. But over the couple of days they spend together in hiding while Laurent formulates a plan, Honoria comes to realise that perhaps he’s not the pompous, spoiled and vain man she’d originally supposed him to be, and that he genuinely loves the young Dauphin and his sister and would do anything – even sacrifice his own life –to ensure their safety.
There’s no question Shana Galen knows how to write an adventure yarn, and she paces her story well, juxtaposing moments of peril with moments of quiet and introspection – but I have to admit that I found some of the latter sections – that usually happen after Laurent and Honoria have been almost captured or have had to wend their way carefully from one location to another – to be a little repetitive. I appreciated the time the author spent on developing the characters – mostly Laurent – and their relationship, but the pace still flagged somewhat in those portions and I found myself wishing for things to move on. And speaking of Laurent, he’s more rounded-out than Honoria, and one of the things I liked most about the book was his coming to realise the degree of privilege he’d enjoyed and how little he’d done with it:
He hadn’t ever appreciated that luxury. He hadn’t appreciated anything at all… He hadn’t needed three-fourths of what he’d had, and yet it had never been enough. If coats and art and jewelled shoe buckles could have made a man happy, he would have never ceased smiling.
But he hadn’t been happy, and he’d spent countless nights in La Force, lying awake, listening to the snores of the men around him and wishing he could have another chance.
By contrast, Honoria is a bit of an historical romance staple; a quick-witted, intelligent and practical heroine who is a good foil for the hero but who never really transcends that role. Still, she and Laurent both want to be seen for more than they appear on the surface, and Ms. Galen handles this aspect of their relationship admirably, clearly showing their growing appreciation for each other’s strengths and abilities.
A well-written, sensual romantic adventure story featuring two engaging protagonists, Taken by the Rake is an enjoyable addition to the Scarlet Chronicles. It’s the third book in a series, but works perfectly well as a standalone, so if you like the sound of it, you can jump right in!