The Rake and the Wallflower
If you are fond of Regency Romances where the London Season is presented as a glittering round of balls, parties and fun, you will probably not like Allison Lane’s portrayal of it. In almost all of her books, the Season is presented as a pitfall for young women (and men too). They are prey to the waspish tongues of the matrons who rule Society and who censure any young man or woman who does not fit their notions of what is proper. Since most of Allison Lane’s characters do not fit the mold of what is considered proper; they often suffer pain from the sting of gossip before the happy ending. While the hopeful romantic in me would like to think the Season really was composed of sparkle and stardust, my more cynical self would agree that Allison Lane’s portrayal is probably closer to the truth.
Mary Seabrook and her sister Laura are in London for the Season. They are two very different young ladies. Mary is a quiet, bookish young woman, fond of nature and art, and Laura is a social butterfly. While Mary is attractive, Laura is a true beauty who has gathered a court of men who hang on her every word. The parties and balls of the ton hold little interest for Mary, and she would love to go to some activities where she can have an intelligent conversation, but she is forced to accompany Laura to functions where she stammers and makes a bad impression.
At one party, Mary is trying to avoid an obnoxious man, so she hides among the potted palms. She runs into Lord Grayson, who has ducked into the palms to avoid a flirtacious miss. Grayson and Mary find that they are both avid bird-watchers, and are both fond of art. When Mary talks to Grayson, she is totally at ease and does not stammer. Later at a social function, Mary hears the gossips talk about Grayson. It seems that several years ago, he was accused of getting a Miss Turner pregnant then refusing to marry her. She killed herself and ever since then, Grayson is barely tolerated by the women who are the social leaders. The only thing that is keeping Grayson from being totally ostracized is his status as the heir to the Earl of Rothmoor, and even that cannot keep him from being constantly cut.
As the book continues, Mary and Grayson meet again and again and as she comes to know him better, Mary doubts the gossipers. She simply cannot believe that Grayson, who is intelligent, gentle and kind, could be a man who would callously abandon a young woman. The plot is further complicated when the spoiled and petty Laura decides that she wants Grayson for herself.
The Rake and the Wallflower is cursed with an uninteresting and terribly generic title and it has some other flaws as well. Characters come out of the woodwork at very convenient times, including the man responsible for sullying Grayson’s good name. At one point, someone causes a series of accidents that are aimed at Grayson. That mystery is solved with an ease that would make Sherlock Holmes look like a bumbler. Mary and Laura’s sister and brother-in-law (who are supposed to be chaperoning them) leave them alone far too often and are blind for too long regarding Laura’s nasty spitefulness toward Mary.
Despite these problems, I enjoyed this book because of the two main characters. I fell in love with Grayson myself. Despite the title, he is no rake. Actually, Grayson is a beta hero with enough strength to keep him from becoming bland. A decent and honorable man, he was quite captivating. Mary Seabrook is a character to inspire a reader’s admiration and sympathy. Allison Lane shows, through her, how difficult it must have been for women who did not fit Society’s expectations. All through the book, Mary is the target of many a snippy remark. In an age that prized beauty, fashion, flirtation and insipidness, Mary who is quiet, intelligent and forthright is not appreciated by the social set. But she is appreciated by Grayson and they are as well-matched as any pair I have seen in a long time.
I have read all of Allison Lane’s Regency Romances now. One of them, The Rake’s Rainbow is a cherished keeper. I have been captivated by some of her books, entertained by others and even been upset by a few of them. One thing I haven’t been is bored, and in a time when blandness reigns, that is something to celebrate.