Sunday, April 8, 2012

Review: How to Ravish a Rake by Vicky Dreiling (4.5 stars, historical)

Full Description: Amazon

Rating: 4.5 out of 5

Thoughts After Reading:
I have a theory about Vicky Dreiling - it seems to me that she very intentionally sets out to keep her books a step removed from typical regency romances. I doubt I'll ever forget the first book I read by her, How to Marry a Duke. Not only do I recall absolutely loving the storyline, but the plot involving a matchmaking spinster was quite different (in a very good way) from most historicals I had read. Now, with her latest novel - How to Ravish a Rake - she attempts to take the oft used marriage of convenience between a rake with a secretly good heart and a wallflower who strives to be more to a whole new level. And, for the most part, she succeeds. Dreiling creates very human protagonists, an engaging storyline with unique elements, a believable HEA... and she does all of that while avoiding common pitfalls of the genre. She also includes some  great comedy from time to time. The half star deduction comes in because, while she does manage to bypass the aforementioned pitfalls, she does so at the cost of making substitutions that were slightly lacking in their own way.

One of the things I really loved about How to Ravish a Rake was how Dreiling wrote the characters. Although the heroine has a shy personality, she cannot be defined merely as a retiring wallflower. She is twenty-two year old woman who tries to seize her last season to become more confident and outgoing, and not settle for a country vicar who feels they would be "comfortable together". Plus, she takes pride in her burgeoning skill of what amounts to fashion design. The reader gets invested in her thoughts and emotions as she tries to deal with society and then later with her unexpected marriage. The hero, admittedly, should be somewhat familiar to readers. He's a twenty-six year old charming rake who is a wastrel, had a hard childhood, and does have a conscience, only it's buried deep. Dreiling still manages to add a little extra humanity to his character, though, as a man who loves his extended family but feels very smothered by them.

The story itself stays fairly true to the description. The hero and heroine start out with a slightly antagonistic relationship, merely in the sense that the heroine is smart enough not to fall for the hero's charms. He does try to seduce the heroine early on in the story, since she's somewhat of a heiress and the money would make his life much easier, but is more or less relieved when she rebuffs his attempt (his conscience pricks at him). Later, they accidentally get locked in a cellar overnight; a the marriage of convenience results not long after. One interesting facet of How to Ravish a Rake is that the novel forced me to recognize how a wallflower and rake would realistically feel  in that situation. The heroine, true to her character, is worried about how things will turn out. It's not just the physical intimacy she's scared about, she understands her life is undergoing an unexpected major change and has to figure out how she wants to handle her new responsibility (ie. being married). As a result - even though she is physically attracted to the hero - she doesn't immediately jump in bed with him. She knows that the only chance of making the relationship work is if deeper feelings can be developed between them before the lust burns out. Therefore, she convinces the hero to court her for several weeks without consummating the relationship.  The hero, meanwhile, tries to be fairly courteous to the heroine but isn't sure how much he will really be able to reform his rakish ways. His confusion on the situation is probably compounded by the fact that he really wants to bed his wife. So they spend quite a bit of time with each other, have meaningful talks, cause each other to laugh from time to time, have increasingly intimate moments, and - naturally - fall in love.

Which brings me to the romance conflicts. Marriage complications arise from time to time (as would have to happen with a developing relationship), which need to be handled. Dreiling also sets up two major secrets quite clearly (the failed seduction and then also that the heroine is slightly involved with trade). Neither of these elements, however, get handled in a typical fashion. Instead of constant frustrations between the hero and heroine, they actually sit down and talk through the smaller things (quite frequently, actually). Likewise, when the big reveal occurs at the end the heroine stops herself from running off and hiding. Instead, she waits and confronts her husband. At the same time, though, these alternative resolutions have a downside. For one thing, I felt the dialogue during their "talks" felt a bit stilted and forced. It also took some of the steam out of the final resolution - because there was nothing misunderstood at that point, all the characters could do was decide to move past their hurt feelings and continue to love each other. Which is actually probably closer to what would happen in real life, but nonetheless didn't come out as satisfying as more conventional endings.

All-in-all, Vicky Dreiling's How to Ravish a Rake is a worthwhile read. It may not have topped my admiration of How to Marry a Duke, but it holds it own as a well-written book with some uniquely impressive elements.

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