Harlequin Historical, $6.50, ISBN 978-0-373-29836-5
Historical Romance, 2015
Rake Most Likely to Rebel is quite odd for a title, as rakes by definition tend to be on the rebel without a cause side, and the only way to interpret the title is that the hero Haviland North, Viscount Amersham, is forced to be a rutting town bicycle against his will and, any time now, he would run off to join a monastery in Tibet and spend the rest of his life in pious prudery. Unfortunately, that’s not going to happen here. Fortunately, we all know titles of books in this line tend to be lies anyway, so this title being another calculated play with known effective keywords shouldn’t be a shock to most people.
Haviland, our hero, has six months of freedom before he is married off by his parents to a bride of their choosing. Try as he might, Haviland doesn’t manage to muster the appropriate defiance to give them a finger and, let’s face it, as the heir to a title and all that comes with it, it’s not like he can just do as he pleases. Alas, it is so hard to be he, of the perfect looks and perfect pedigree, who has everything he could want given to him, rutting and drinking 24/7 because he is only a sad bird in a gilded cage! #firstworldwhining So, here he is, in Paris, in his last six months of freedom, and he intends to spend his time indulging in his passion: fencing.
Of course, he is so amazing in it that he is only bested by the best of the best in Paris: the renowned fencing instructor Antoine Leodegrance, who decides to accept him as a student in his prestigious school. He also has his eye on a beauty, who turns out to be Alyssandra, Antoine’s twin sister. How convenient. (Note to self: when in France, remember to introduce myself as Saffryre Ponyprancingrande.) He and Alyssandra soon realize that they want one thing from one another: they are both tied down by responsibilities imposed on them by their families, so why not spend what time they have together in wanton sexy debauchery? It would be an affair to remember. Unfortunately, things get complicated really quickly when feelings get involved.
Alyssandra also has a secret: Antoine has been wheelchair-bound all this while after an accident, and to keep the school in business, he has been playing this eccentric reclusive fencing master who shuns visitors due to the scars caused by the accident, and all this while, it is Alyssandra who dons the mask and fencing costume to step in as Antoine when the need arises. Yes, this means that Alyssandra is the one who bested and continues to best Haviland in fencing. Will there be trouble in paradise when a covetous villain tries to expose her secret to the world?
Now, where do I even begin? Oh yes, this is one romance where the hero and the heroine are on a very level footing, which means it is a complete joy to read. No contrived “I’m so weak, save me!” scenes, no “Hello, I’m a very stupid girl, can you help me do my thinking for me?” drama, and 100% no “He doesn’t tell me he loves me, I will prostrate myself in grief and whine non-stop about this while trying to do my best to plunge the story into stupidity!” moments of martyrdom. Oh, and no “I’m so innocent, I still believe babies are delivered by storks!” kind of innocence on the heroine’s part. This is one heroine who has no problems taking care of herself and the hero, and. besides, she’s the one who takes down the hero more than once and make no apologies for this. Alyssandra is a tall glass of water where heroines are concerned and I love her. I love this.
The hero isn’t a slouch either. Usually when a heroine is amazing, the hero ends up looking like a wuss due to character imbalance, but here, he holds his own very well. Despite the title proclaiming Haviland to be a rake, this is one guy who appears to adore women, who has no intentions of straying once he marries, and who is repulsed by the idea of sleeping with a married woman. Don’t tell anyone, but I think he’s anything but a rake, hmm. What I like about him is that he likes the heroine for everything that she is, and when her secrets are revealed, there is no irrational “You lied to me – whore, whore, whore, et cetera!” drama or crazy judgment from him. In fact, he is smart enough to put two and two together long before things are revealed, and he’s not mad at all when things come out. It makes sense to him perfectly, and damn, she’s so hot and he wants her even more. He’s such an adorable darling, and I love it when he goes all protective and melodramatic, all the while without infantalizing the heroine or acting like she’d die without his manly protection.
However, I do wish the author had allowed Alyssandra to confront the villain in the final denouement. I know, letting the hero steps in plays more to the romantic fantasy, but Alyssandra has been holding her own so well all this while, there is no reason why she would quietly step back and let the hero do the dirty work. Still, I guess the hero deserves a chance to shine in his own moment.
The sexual chemistry is potent and combustible, made even better by the fact that all the sexy moments are voluntary and the heroine isn’t doing the splits for the sake of the house, the moon, the unicorns, and the children of nature. Even the plot is pretty exciting, leading to an exciting showdown in the fencing ring that has me at the edge of my seat. The author is in fine form here, and this is one of those stories where I feel like I just need to light up a cigarette when I’m done, and I don’t even smoke.
The only downside that stands out to me is the fact that the author builds up this matter of Haviland being trapped by his station into living a life determined by his station and his responsibilities that comes with the title he would inherit, only to then have the hero eventually walk away anyway as if he’s a college kid who decides to drop out to open a bar in Amsterdam. All that drama and angst… only to have everything settled in a neat and tidy parcel? I don’t know, the whole thing feels contrived.
Anyway, that’s just one issue, and it’s not like I expect this book to be perfect. It’s more than good enough as it is: I’ve had so much fun, the romance is sexy and dramatic, and the characters are equally matched and too hot for words. Oh, and the whole thing is just one big ball of breathless entertainment. Rake Most Likely to Rebel is definitely one for the keeper shelf.