The Perfect Rake
Anne Gracie burst upon the romance scene in 2001 with two stellar books, Tallie’s Knight and The Gallant Waif. It has been three long years since she has had a new novel published, but she is back with The Perfect Rake, the first book in a new series about the Merridew sisters.
After their parents died abroad, Prudence Merridew and her four younger sisters became the wards of their deranged and violent grandfather. He regularly beats them until, after one particularly violent episode, Prudence fears for their lives and takes the girls to London. She arrives at the home of their great-uncle Oswald, bearing a forged letter from her grandfather asking Oswald to sponsor their Season. The plan is to find a safe place to live for two months until Prudence turns 21 and becomes guardian to her younger sisters, and to find a rich husband for one of them, as their Grandfather has promised to withhold their dowries. While Uncle Oswald is a much kinder man, he is strict in his own way, refusing to let the younger girls out in society until Prudence is settled. Prudence is plain and plump with a prominent nose, and Oswald fears that her astoundingly beautiful sisters will keep Prudence from having a chance to catch a husband.
Prudence has been secretly engaged to Phillip, who is in India making his fortune, for four years. But he hasn’t answered any of her letters in a very long time. Since she promised Phillip to keep their betrothal a secret, she tells her uncle that she is secretly engaged, not to Phillip, but to the Duke of Dinstable, a well known recluse who hasn’t left his estate in northern Scotland for ten years. Well, of course, he has just arrived in London, and Uncle Oswald makes plans to visit him and bring him up to scratch.
Prudence manages to pay a visit in advance of her uncle to warn the duke and to enlist his help. Gideon is quite amused and stimulated by her forthrightness and bossy ways – especially so after he kisses her. When Uncle Oswald arrives, we learn that Gideon is not the duke, but the duke’s rakish cousin, Lord Carridice. Gideon thinks Prudence is adorable and beautiful and doesn’t even notice her sisters when they meet, while his cousin, the duke, becomes instantly smitten with the beautiful Charity Merridew.
These scenes of mistaken identity and fake betrothals made and broken and made again are convolutedly farcical and hysterical to read. Gracie’s humor is as engaging as ever and Prudence and Gideon spar most charmingly.
“…you look rather different from our last meeting also. More…” She paused, as if searching for a word.
Elegant, supplied Gideon silently. Dashing. Stylish.
“Tidy,” said Miss Merridew.
Tidy! … Blast it, did the girl not know how long he had taken to tie his neckcloth? Could she not see the cursed thing was a miracle of precision and style? Was it not apparent to her that his coat was so much the crack he was barely able to breathe and that his collar points were so highly starched they practically decapitated him? And all she could say was that he looked tidy!
Oh, Gideon is a goner. And he is adorable. With his past, he could easily have turned into your typical tortured hero, and while the darkness is there, he conceals his pain with humor and charm. Prudence is a bit more closed, but no less admirable character. She has a spine of steel, and holds the family together through some very hard times, telling the girls stories of their lives in Italy and the love their parents shared, bolstering their self-worth, even as she questions her own. She flowers under Gideon’s attention, though she tries to withstand his charm.
But there are obstacles to their HEA: Prudence’s disbelief in Gideon’s admiration for her – after all, he is a rake, and compliments are his stock in trade – and her promise to Phillip, for Prudence is not one to take her promises lightly, something which only fuels Gideon’s admiration. And there is the shadow of Prudence’s grandfather, which casts a pall from time to time and becomes downright menacing toward the end.
And that is really my main complaint about this book. The opening is dark with scenes of girls being beaten by a deranged old man, and then they escape to London where everything becomes light, and love and laughter abound. Then the ending turns melodramatic – too melodramatic, in my opinion, with some truly painful scenes and revelations. And the shift between the two was jarring, especially at the end. It was as if these scenes belonged to another book.
Something else that plays up this schizophrenic aspect of the book is the love scenes. The Perfect Rake had a solid “Subtle” sensuality rating, with some very nice and tender petting scenes. However, Prudence and Gideon consummate their relationship in three love scenes which are all crammed into the last 20 pages of the book. Again, it didn’t seem to match what came before.
But regardless of these problems, it was very nice to read another Anne Gracie novel, to enjoy her delightful humor and dialogue and to know that there will be another book coming in November. I know I’ll be there!