We’ve been having a lot of fun with Pandora’s Box lately here at AAR, and this month Lynn Spencer and Dabney Grinnan are taking a turn there. We decided to go for a European historical this month, and chose Harlequin Historicals author Marguerite Kaye’s latest release Rake With a Frozen Heart. The plot centers on an innocent governess, Henrietta Markham, who is rescued by a reputed rake, Rafe St. Alban, the Earl of Pentland. She remembers an attack by a thief, but little else, and after finding herself suspected of a crime, she ends up on the run with her rescuer. Henrietta has no intention of falling in love with Rafe and after the loss of his first wife, Rafe has no interest in marriage. However, Rafe does feel moved to help Henrietta clear her name and as they go about it, something about the way they deal with one another starts turning into attraction. This is shaping up to be a great year for historical reading, and with such a crowded field, it can be hard for one book to stand out. And as you can see, Dabney and Lynn have different takes on how this one fared.
Note: The discussion of this book contains some spoilers.
Lynn: So, what did you make of this book?
Dabney: I hate to say this, but not much. I can barely recall the plot a week after reading it. It didn’t grab me at all.
Lynn: I definitely had some issues with it, but I also enjoyed some aspects of the story and so it ended up falling into B- territory for me.
Dabney: What did you like?
Lynn: Well, I liked the way in which the author used some of the plot points I’m used to seeing in European historicals and then tweaked them a little. For instance, we have the innocent heroine raised with an absolute horror of rakes because of something mysterious but awful that happened to her mother. Without spoiling things, the truth of her mother’s secret had an amusing twist.
I also enjoyed seeing a plot where the hero and heroine started off with no intention of getting together, and yet they found their way to one another without being caught in a compromising position or somehow being forced to marry.
However, I have a feeling that you might have a fairly strong opinion about the heroine. What did you think of Henrietta?
Dabney: She made me a wee bit crazy. She struck me as one who had been in psychoanalysis–she was so in touch with her feelings and articulated them constantly to the reader. I found this heavy handed on the part of Ms. Kaye. I prefer a little less telling and a little more showing in my character development.
Lynn: Hmm…I didn’t see that aspect of her quite so much. At first, Henrietta did annoy me because she seemed to think rakes were some kind of exotic species and her discussion of the subject with Rafe got a little grating sometimes. Once they got off that subject, I actually liked her. She seemed forthright and perhaps a little too chatty, but I took that more as her being the overly earnest missionaries’ daughter rather than as psychobabble.
Dabney:I guess I’m not a big fan of the country miss heroine!
Lynn:Turning to the hero, I liked that Rafe could be a widower without everyone assuming he’d killed off Wife #1, but beyond that, he spent much of the book just seeming like a standard issue, gorgeous hero. Did Rafe make much of an impression on you?
Dabney:Rafe was an inconsistent character for me. He was all over the map. He wants nothing to do with young women and then he installs Henrietta in his bed–I kept wondering, doesn’t he have like a hundred guest rooms? He is supposed to be reserved but from the moment she awakens (in his bed), he says outrageous things to her. Plus, he’s described in minute detail as so perfect it made me crazy. Even his chest hair is gorgeous as he finishes riding his gorgeous stallion Thor.
Hey, look at we both focused on the word gorgeous! Too much perfection is not a good thing.
Lynn: LOL – yes, he was too perfect. Though, once the heroine started getting to know him better and we started seeing that he had enough baggage to fill a barge, I liked him better.
Dabney: I also thought the jewel theft plot was obvious from the word go. The minute her boss flinched when Henrietta reappeared, I was sure Lady Whatshername was the thief.
Lynn: Yes, that’s what I thought, too. It was obvious that Lady Ipswich was going to be the bad guy, but since so little of the story dealt directly with her, I found myself enjoying things anyway.
I was curious to see how the villain would eventually be found out, but I was more curious to learn what happened in Rafe’s first marriage, see if those two would ever get together, etc…
Dabney: I did like the descriptions of the time. I thought the scene where they went into the slums depicted the poverty of the time beautifully.
Lynn: Yes. I totally agree. I’ve read too many books where the poor parts of London are glossed over and made unthreatening. I thought this author did a good job of showing how poor some people were and how dangerous life could be at that time.
Dabney: Going back to Rafe, I wasn’t so curious about his first marriage. He was too perfect to have done anything wrong. I’m also not a big fan of heroes/heroines for whom guilt rules their lives. I felt like he should have been sane enough to have pulled himself together years ago.
Lynn: I’ll admit I’m a bit of a sucker for a tortured hero. It was probably laid on a tad thick here, but I still got pulled right into it.
Dabney: I think it’s done better elsewhere! 2012 has been such a great year for historicals, I was probably hard on this one.
Wait–I have one more dislike. I thought the dialogue in this book was stilted. I kept reading it and thinking “No one on earth has ever spoken this way.” At one point, Rafe calls H “my delectable stowaway.” And at the end, he says “you’ve been like a shaft of sunshine forcing its way through the clouds. Like a blinding ray of pure light coming through a door which is only slightly ajar.”
I’m sorry, not even hundreds of years ago, did people say such things in casual conversation to one another. The dialogue kept yanking me out of the story.
Lynn: True. I don’t think it grated on me quite as much, but I did notice it. Sometimes things in this book flowed well, and the characters seemed to have a wry sense of humor that I liked. And at other times, well….we got dialogue like that and it reminded me of the heroes in Barbara Cartland novels.
Dabney: Ack!!! I’m so happy to have left Dame Cartland behind in my long ago youth!
Lynn: Yes, romance has come a looooong way since she was writing!
Dabney: As to what I thought, overall, I’d give it a C. It didn’t cover any new ground, the hero was too perfect to be believable, the dialogue too stilted, the plot was predictable (to me) and the sex scenes seemed to lack a grasp of basic female anatomy.
Lynn:I actually enjoyed reading this at times. There were things that got on my nerves and it is somewhat predictable, but I found it a comfortable sort of read. And there’s a cuteness to the story that I liked because it wasn’t laid on too heavily. In the end, I think I’d have to give it a B- because I do think I’d recommend it, even with qualifications.