The Rake
by Suzanne Enoch, historical (2002)
Avon, $5.99, ISBN 0-380-82082-X

If Suzanne Enoch takes the print-outs of her book, tosses them into a very big blender, adds in chocolate and ice and pages of that goddarned boring Atlas Shrugged book, the entire Verbose Russian Author Classics Penguin unabridged series, and all the extremely thick Diana Gabaldon books, blends the whole concoction, and serves chilled, the mess that results can't be any worse than the bewildering thing that is The Rake, the first book in her new Lessons In Love series.

The Rake is a revenge story. No, it isn't. Or rather, as I suspect, the author doesn't know herself what she wants to write. Riding on Lisa Kleypas' coattails (Lady Sophia's Lover is a better written half-baked inept woman-out-for-revenge story also out this month - the folks at Avon love to package their books in themes sometimes, so sometimes we get like two similarly-themed Westerns published simultaneously or two revenge fantasies - sort of like menstrual cycles in the ladies' dorm, I guess), but not knowing where it want to go, The Rake ends up kinda sad and lost. No, wait, that's me who's lost.

Once upon a time, Tristan, Viscount Dare, steals away Georgiana Halley's stockings as well as her cherry pie when she's not looking too closely. Naturally, she wants revenge, and today, she and her girlfriends, after publishing a "Rules for Love" book straight out of a bad Seventeen melodrama, well, she decides to worm her way into his family of dotty old biddies and wins and then breaks his heart.

That's the plot, technically. But from the get go, Georgiana is already finding excuses to like that man, even after she has decided to break his heart and crush his testicles to dust. Hello, dingbat girly, I've encountered so many of you in Regency London, I'm marrying Napoleon myself and asking him to crush your worthless country to bits so that I will never have to read another girly "Sex? Eee, hee hee, no, no, but hee-hee, ooh, ooh, no, hee-hee" rubbish from you ever again.

But if Georgiana's fickle nature brands her a nitwit, Tristan is a mess. What kind of guy is he? He seduces her on a bet, but never announces his victory. He's said to be a rake, but he doesn't act like one, deflowering the said nitwit above notwithstanding. How does he feel about deflowering and then jilting the nitwit? I don't know, because all I have are throwaway words like "stupidity" to describe his actions, and he sure doesn't act remorseful, gleeful, or anything. He's just... there.

What's going on here? At one point, I wonder if he really did seduce her, because he doesn't act as if he did. Maybe Georgiana slipped from her bed while conducting a vigorous self-diddy session (no, I don't believe that either, actually), got her head stuffed into the chamber pot, tried to stand up but knocked her chamber-potted head hard against the wall, fell down three flights of stairs, and became delusional as a result. But no, later Ms Enoch reassures me that that the nitwit popping session did take place, because Tristan remembers Georgie's breasts, curves, thighs, et cetera.

I'm confused, really. So is Tristan a rake or not? What is he feeling? Yo, Tristan, you are holding the Oscar for the Daddy Popper of the Year Award, say something, damn it.

I have this feeling that Ms Enoch doesn't dare to go all the way. I don't understand why not. Her hero in Stolen Kisses is a far more ruthless man, a rake who actually doesn't mince words when he confesses to me that he has seduced more than a few virgins when drunk. Ms Enoch has written really debauched rakes who live just like rakes should, thus it doesn't make sense why she would create an antiseptic hero for a plot that requires the hero to be really bad. This one misstep is enough to plunge this story into a morass of confusion. Because Tristan isn't bad enough, Georgie's far-fetched plans for revenge that gets abandoned halfway makes her look like an addle-pated nitwit, the whole seduction as a bet premise unbelievable and suspect, and the whole story makes me completely, utterly bewildered.

More the pity: in another story and in another plot, Tristan and Georgiana can actually be a nice, if rather silly, couple. They do have chemistry and some witty bantering in The Rake, but thanks to a plot that does not fit their personalities at all, they are floundering like beached whales on the coast of Africa. Maybe in another lifetime, eh, Georgie and Tristan? It's nice knowing you, even if your stories suck like lemon-scented vacuum cleaners.

Rating: 69

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