Harlequin Historical, $6.50, ISBN 978-0-373-29824-2
Historical Romance, 2015
Once upon a time, Alastair Ransleigh and Diana, currently the Dowager Duchess of Graveston, were in love. He wrote passionate poetry and threw himself at her feet, vowing eternal love. She claimed to love him back. Everything came to a shattering halt one day when she showed up at a party in the arms of the Duke of Graveston and, oh Alastair, surprise, those two were getting married! Driven to despair, Alastair throws himself at war and into the embrace of various women, because there is nothing more noble in a heartbroken man than seeing him killing other people and having lots of sex.
Today, she’s back in town. Her son ends up becoming BFF with Alastair’s nephew, so oh dear, it looks like body contact with the woman he now claims to despise with all his heart is inevitable. Sensing the looming iceberg ahead of her, Diana explains that she married the Duke – who turned out to be a cartoon villain encompassing everything evil about late husbands – because of a combo of her father being heavily indebted to the Duke, the Duke killing her dog and vowing to destroy Alastair too, and the Duke pressing her father to accept his suit. Naturally, Diana’s first instinct was to martyr herself and marry that man to protect everyone, and because she promised the Duke that she would never tell her father or Alastair that her husband beat her crazy, sex her badly, and more, she kept up the pretense. Now that she is a widow, she is free like Elsa running wild at the top of an ice mountain… until Alastair tries to insult her by offering to make her his mistress. Because she feels that she owes Alastair a debt for, you know, hurting him, she agrees to become his mistress.
I know. You can just imagine my face as I turn the pages of this book. Still, look at the bright side. The same legion of readers who keep Mary Balogh in business would probably consider Diana a heroine after their own pious little hearts and devour this book with gusto. It’s really a shame that I’m not one of those readers, as I sure could do without the pinched-up grimace on my face as I read The Rake to Rescue Her.
Alastair, who clearly doesn’t know romance heroines well, initially pooh-poohs her story. What kind of melodramatic nonsense is this story she is telling him? What kind of woman would torture herself like that instead of coming to him for help? (The kind of woman he’d marry, naturally.) A discreet series of inquiries soon has him realizing that, oh, right, he has been such a self-righteous ass all this while while poor Diana was happily subjecting herself to all kinds of physical and emotional torture to protect him, a manly man of a soldier from a powerfully connected family, as well as her useless debt-ridden cliché of a father. How noble! This really must be love!
The rest of the story deals with him cleaning up the mess she’s in, thanks to her late husband’s leftover inheritance issues. Diana talks a lot about how she can’t bear to be parted from her son or how she has to do this or that, but just as the title of the book indicates, Alastair is the one who swoops in and clears up everything. Of course, you can argue that this is because he is a man and therefore he has more social power in that era to do things, but Diana doesn’t even try here. All she does is to endure, weep, and generally play the passive soggy tissue wad of a wretch who can’t even enjoy a rumpy-pumpy session with Alastair without making each wail that escapes her mouth to be some kind of payment for imagined debt and other nonsense. It is bad enough that she has all kinds of troubles to deal with, but she just has to add a lot of self-imposed problems and limitations to make her troubles even worse. Really, she’s lucky to have the hero, because she clearly never learns – playing a martyr gets her the evil husband, so the next thing she does when she is free is to play the sex martyr to the hero – and, without the hero to marry her and coddle her from the evil world out there, she’d probably spend the rest of her life weeping as she is passed from one bloke to another for the sake of her son and the unicorns of la-la land.
Even worse, once Alastair decides that he has to rescue Diana, the story starts dripping with over the top sentimental muzak as the two of them gasp and exclaim non-stop, usually in between throes of purple passion, about how they are forever in love, the only one for the other person, and other cloying proclamations that could give readers diabetes if they are not careful. Between the drippy sugar and the heroine’s determination to immolate herself at every chance, I find myself rolling my eyes so often that I start to feel a little dizzy.
The Rake to Rescue Her is definitely not my cup of tea. Okay, it is an unabashed rescue fantasy, nothing wrong with that, but it is so treacly sweet and it also has a heroine who is determined to put Mary Balogh’s Mattel Martyr Barbie factory out of business. I’m so out of here.