Meet the SOCIETY OF SIRENS—three radical, libertine ladies determined to weaponize their scandalous reputations to fight for justice and the love they deserve…
She’s a Rakess on a quest for women’s rights…
Seraphina Arden’s passions include equality, amorous affairs, and wild, wine-soaked nights. To raise funds for her cause, she’s set to publish explosive memoirs exposing the powerful man who ruined her. Her ideals are her purpose, her friends are her family, and her paramours are forbidden to linger in the morning.
He’s not looking for a summer lover…
Adam Anderson is a wholesome, handsome, widowed Scottish architect, with two young children, a business to protect, and an aversion to scandal. He could never, ever afford to fall for Seraphina. But her indecent proposal—one month, no strings, no future—proves too tempting for a man who strains to keep his passions buried with the losses of his past.
But one night changes everything…
What began as a fling soon forces them to confront painful secrets—and yearnings they thought they’d never have again. But when Seraphina discovers Adam’s future depends on the man she’s about to destroy, she must decide what to protect…her desire for justice, or her heart.
Reviewers Shannon Dyer and Em Wittmann read The Rakess, the first book in Scarlett Peckham’s new Society of Sirens series, and got together to share their thoughts on the novel.
Em: I confess – I liked this better than I thought I would! I still don’t like the title, and since I think the author struggles with her characterization of Seraphina (which we’ll talk about), I’m not sure it’s appropriate. But overall, I found it thoughtful and compelling – and sometimes quite sexy, and I liked a lot of things about it. What did you think Shannon?
Shannon: It was definitely sexy! The beginning chapters were a little slow for me, but once the story picked up speed, I was pretty hooked.
Em: Alright, let’s talk about the set-up of the story (and why I’m giving it a B grade). A teenage Seraphina was ruined by a man she deeply loved and trusted. She managed to make a success of her life anyway, and she’s become a lightning rod for her published opinions about women’s rights in and out of the bedroom. She enjoys casual sex, and doesn’t mind if the whole wide world knows it. With the support of her patron and friend, Lady Elinor Bell, and publisher Jack Willow, she and her fellow fallen, ruined women friends, Cornelia and Thaïs, hope to build a philanthropic institute that will work for the advancement and education of the female sex. Together, these women are – you guessed it, The Society of Sirens.
Although I wasn’t feeling the girl power vibe at the beginning of the story, I’m glad I persevered. I ended up liking these women and their love for each other, even if I wasn’t buying their ‘casual sex is the best sex,’ rallying call. And that segues nicely into a discussion about my thoughts about our heroine. Look, Shannon, I have no problems with a lusty lady who likes sex. It’s a bit strange to find her in a Regency, but since the blurb says her passions include equality, amorous affairs, and wild, wine-soaked nights, I knew what to expect. Unfortunately, mid-way through the book, our heroine is sober and we get this gem:
All at once she felt afraid. His delectation in their intimacy was too much. This was all too fast. She could not remember the last time she’d been with a man without the haze of wine, and she felt her nakedness, she felt his focus, she felt all the ways that she might wrong him, and she wanted to cover up.
Which, I felt, gave the lie to her casual approach to sex. If she’s always hazy with wine, is it all really so easy, breezy casual? Honestly, if we’re likening her to a rake, I don’t think alcohol has anything to do with their sexual appetite. Sex is sex. Peckham attempts to characterize Seraphina as a sexually liberated and experienced heroine who likes both giving and receiving pleasure (I’m all for this) with a parade of casual lovers, but it felt more like a role she was playing rather than her true self. She can be sexually liberated and still not be into casual sex – can’t she? Did you feel this way?
Shannon: I see your point, but my interpretation is slightly different from yours. I saw her as someone who wears her supposed liberation like a suit of armor, putting it on when she needs to feel powerful and free, but wishing she didn’t need to wear it quite so often. I don’t necessarily think she was lying as much as she was trying to convince herself of her own happiness. She pours her heart and soul into fighting for the rights of women without giving a ton of thought to her own deepest desires. When she and Adam meet, all that begins to change, and Seraphina isn’t sure she can deal with the changes. After all, she’s being forced to examine parts of herself she’s ignored for years.
Let’s talk about Adam now. Some readers might find him a touch on the boring side, but I fell in love with him right away. I enjoyed watching him take a more passive role in his dealings with Seraphina. He isn’t exactly submissive, but neither is he the one constantly in charge, and I found it to be a refreshing change. His love for his sister and his two young children is plain to see, and I found myself wanting all of his dreams to come true almost right away. I was also quite intrigued by his relationship with his own sexuality. He wasn’t the kind of brash, cocksure hero I encounter so often in today’s historical romances. He likes sex, but it also has some painful associations for him. I’m usually a reader who identifies more with the heroine, so I’m a little surprised by the strength of my feelings for Adam. How did you feel about him?
Em: I liked him, too. I was surprised by him. On the surface, he’s a dutiful father and brother who tries to do the best for the people he loves. He works hard, and still suffers the loss of his wife. But he also has such a naughty side, and it’s lovely that with Seraphina he can be both. Good, kind, and gentle, but playful and slightly wicked and lecherous, too! She helps coax out his truest self, and he does the same for her. He doesn’t tolerate games – of which Seraphina has become something of a master – and calls her out even though it hurts him to do so. (She does the same for him, by the way.) He’s an excellent match for her.
Shannon: I completely agree. These two complement each other very well. Things between them aren’t always easy and fun, but their deep affection for one another shines through in spite of the difficulties they sometimes had in relating to one another.
Em: I mentioned earlier that I liked the friendship between the women, but I have to confess, I don’t think the secondary characters are as successfully realized as Seraphina and Adam. The glib references to smelling sex on Seraphina and loving it (wink, wink); the easy, breezy asylum break out; the awareness that Seraphina might have a problem with alcohol – but minimal attempt to curb their own behaviors in the face of it, and Lady Bell’s relationship with her husband and Willow… The lack of nuance to their shared struggle for agency is a bit clunky. I don’t know that they added much value to this story, aside from illustrating the many facets of the problem. And sometimes it just felt like the author couldn’t resist gilding the lily. Even Adam’s sister feels like she’s a check mark on some pre-planned list of people Peckham wanted to include. What did you think?
Shannon: It’s interesting that you bring that up since I had similar thoughts. Their friendship felt more like a concept to me than a fully-realized relationship based on mutual caring. Cornelia and Thais exist to serve a purpose, and this negatively impacted my ability to like and trust them. Hopefully, we’ll learn more about them as the series progresses because they did feel rather two-dimensional. Perhaps some fleshing out of their histories will make them feel more authentic, but for now, I wasn’t as impressed by them as I wanted to be. The whole scene at the asylum felt more than a little implausible, due in large part to their shoddy planning and the lack of real obstacles they encountered. The author’s idea was great, but the execution didn’t work nearly as well.
Do you plan to read the next installment in this series when it comes out? I enjoyed The Rakess enough to want to give the next book a try, and I’m giving it a B+. Peckham is an engaging storyteller, and I’m eager to see where she takes this series.
Em: You mentioned you hadn’t read Peckham before. I loved her first book (The Duke I Tempted), but was so disappointed with the second – and the authors’ abandonment of the darker themes that made the first one so compelling (and perhaps divided her readers), that I didn’t even read her last book. Honestly, I’m worried about history repeating itself here. I hope she commits to this potentially divisive story line in the future stories. I have my doubts, but I’m definitely here for the next one.