The Rakehell of Roth
Where have all the good rakes gone, we asked our readership recently? Y’know, the kind who keeps a gaming hell, holds his wife at a respectable distance and really really hates his dad? Look no further than the pages of the Everliegh Sisters series; and Amalie Howard’s The Rakehell of Roth. Winter is solidly old skool – handsome, selfish, gambling, drinking and immature – but personally, I wouldn’t want to let him anywhere near my cinnabar cavern of love. As for the rest of the book, I can’t recommend it for numerous reasons.
When Lady Isobel Vance, was younger and romantically naïve, she and Winter Vance, the Marquess of Roth and heir to the Duke of Kendrick, entered into a marriage of semi-convenience, in that he was marrying to avoid the marriage mart and to save Isobel from the grasping clutches of the evil Earl of Beaumont. Roth needed to be married by the age of twenty-one in order to inherit the rest of what his father’s will owed him or wait for it until he’s thirty, so even though he doesn’t want to do anything but screw about and have fun, and really needs the money for his new social club, he takes a wife. Sixteen-year-old Isobel, meanwhile, is under the delusion that her fairytale dreams have come true. (Note: sixteen is the age of consent in the UK today, and was even younger back in the Regency era.) They share one incredible wedding night, and then he dumps her at his family estate and heads back to London the same night.
Three years later, the Marquess, his gambling hell, and his affairs keep making the London broadsheets while Isobel is stuck cloistered far away from big city life at the family seat in Chelmsford with his father. The news that Roth has fought a duel over the honor of a lady of ill repute pushes Isobel into action. Tired of being an object of pity, she decides to blast her way into London on the wings of her success as an anonymous sex advice columnist (in Regency England) “The Daring Lady Darcy”. I had to wonder how successful this column could be given a) Isobel has actually had sex exactly once and b) her best friend and co-writer Clarissa is a virgin. Determined to make Winter jealous Isobel decides to use her wiles to seduce him into living the kind of romantic, passionate life she really wants.
In reality, Winter hasn’t touched any of the women he’s been escorting; he’s hooked upon his (no-longer) virgin bride, but is a Cannot Love Hero ™. He won’t become a family man or settle for just one woman having seen what love did to his mother, who died from a broken heart because Winter’s father never loved her the same way she loved him (no, her name was not Padme). Let the games begin.
The Rakehell of Roth is both too fast and too slow, but it does do one thing well – a heated slow burn between the hero and heroine. If it had been an erotic contemporary I would’ve liked it much better. But this is (supposedly) a romance, and there should at least be something in common between these two besides enjoying a quick fuck. The historical layering here is very light and incredibly anachronistic.
Isobel comes off as a shallow hedonist for the most part. This does feel different in a field filled with simpering charity-obsessed anachronistic crusaders, but that does not make her likable or interesting. The ladylike romantic from the first book is gone, and here she becomes a clone of her sister, a roughhouser obsessed with horseflesh and guns (pastimes she hated in the previous book) and espousing feminist beliefs that basically boil down to ‘I deserve good things, too’. So do we all, sister. Why she wants respect from Winter, I have no clue, because he can’t even respect himself enough to see past his self-loathing.
Winter, meanwhile, is a worse kind of hedonist – the guy who keeps gambling and running sex clubs because he can’t get over the fact that his mom’s taking a dirt nap and his sister died. He Cannot Love. He Will Never Love, even though he wants to boff the heroine. His mother used him as a confidant and abused his siblings emotionally and physically, and yet he worships her memory still; he’s not over the tragic death of his sister from an opium overdose and blames his father’s cheating for her addiction. His trauma is cleared up by a couple of heart to hearts with his dad, and suddenly he can live, love, and pump an heir into his wife instead of pulling out and jizzing all over the sheets. And so on and so forth, and Scooby dooby dooby.
Isobel and Winter want to have sex with each other. A lot. All the time. What they feel about each other when they’re not horny, I have no idea, because aside from lust-loving each other they share no goals or interests, and barely even discuss the fact that he didn’t bone other women during their separation. They don’t like to play cards together, or dance, or what have you; it’s all just fucking. At one point they do the do in a dirty alleyway in Covet Gardens and manage not to get bodily waste splashed up under their garters, so good for them. Isobel had more in common with Winter’s dad, the duke, for heaven’s sake, and more chemistry with him to boot.
The plot is overstuffed with assassination attempts from a stalker ex of Winter’s, baroque childhood trauma, secret sex clubs with bachelor auctions, and oh so much bad sex advice. Isobel has two secret identities she juggles at the same time. There’s a child who may or may not be Winter’s from a previous affair. None of this is necessary to the plot at all.
And then there’s the advice columnist subplot. Sweet mercy. We’re told that “Lady Darcy” has caused a generation of independent-minded females to spring up, but the excerpts we’re shown of the advice Isobel and Clarissa ladel out would be rejected by the most bored Cosmo columnist. Sample quotes:
“Performance on the ballroom floor is indicative of performance in the bedchamber” and “when all else fails, flaunt the girls.”
No one in the Regency era called their breasts “the girls”, I am fairly sure. Oh, and look at lots of erotic art, that will teach you how to wield a whip like you’re in an Anne Rolaquaire novel. We are told Isobel and Clarissa earn thousands of pounds for this advice. This kind of phrasing leaks through into Howard’s writing and continues to be an issue with her work, where the heroine thinks thing to herself like:
Now she just had to strap on her big-girl stockings and see the wager through.
What did I like? The actually romantic and sweet relationship between Oliver, Winter’s younger brother, and Clarissa. I wish the book had been about them; instead we, like the people reading those dirty broadsheets, are stuck with Winter and Isobel, and we are all poorer for it. Romances should be romantic, and The Rakehell of Roth is not.