A Rake’s Guide to Seduction, by Caroline Linden

5 Jun

A Rake’s Guide to Seduction, by Caroline Linden

Set in the early 1800s, this novel tells the story of Celia Reece, youngest daughter of the late Duke of Exeter, and Anthony Hamilton, heir to the Earl of Lynley. Ms Linden first introduced us to Celia and the rest of the Reece family in What a Gentleman Wants and again in What a Rogue Desires, which tell the stories of her brothers Marcus and David, respectively. It is not necessary to read either of them in order to fully enjoy this novel, however.

The back cover blurb:

He must rely on his talents in the bedroom…
Anthony Hamilton cannot help it. The way he looks, the way he lives, his past—it all conspires to make him a man men fear, women desire. His name fills gossip circles in a seemingly endless, lurid drama. But he’s never forgotten the only woman he’s ever truly wanted—yet could never have.
… to make her fall in love.
Celia Reece knew Anthony well before he forged his scandalous reputation. The young man she remembers spoke kindly to her, made her laugh, and his devilish good looks always quickened her pulse. But Celia’s mother had other designs—designs that didn’t include marriage to Anthony. Now, Celia is widowed, and her mother is intent on finding her a new husband. Refusing to let any obstacle stand in his path this time, Anthony sets out to win Celia’s heart by using the same skills that made him London’s most irresistible rake.

While most of the bare facts in the blurb are true to the novel, the tone of it is quite misleading. This is not a fluffy mindless story. No, it’s not a dark and angsty treatise on the miseries of the human soul, but there’s definitely much more to it than the blurb suggests.

Neither of these two is a stock Regency romance novel character; instead they both are very well realized people whom we see grow through the book, as much as we see their relationship change.

At the beginning, Anthony seems the more mature of the two—and not simply because he’s years older and has been taking care of himself for close to a decade, but because he keeps himself separate from everyone, detached, cold. Later into the story, though, once he starts opening up to Celia, the reader becomes more and more aware of the deep insecurities he hides behind his aloof façade. Anthony changes from a somewhat callous and careless young man into a self-possessed and controlled individual, yet capable of deep feeling.

Celia for her part is probably one of my favorite heroines right now. I really like her journey from young bride to married lady to sedate widow to the adult person beneath and behind all those labels. Celia grows from a shallow, giggling, sheltered young miss into a self-aware woman who is trying to find a new place for herself in the frame of her old life.

I enjoyed very much Ms Linden’s portrayal of a society in which every moment and every thought are subject to public scrutiny, thus making it so difficult to get to know the people behind the social mask. When the weather and fashion are pretty much the only appropriate topics of conversation people of the two sexes are allowed to have, and that only under the vigilant eyes of their mothers and chaperones, how on earth can a person know what anyone else thinks about anything? How can a young girl know her own feelings, much less those of the young man declaring his undying love for her?

And later on, when Celia goes back to her family, her feelings of displacement and distance—she’s not the same person, but neither are they the same people—yet the patterns of behaviour towards each other remain unchanged, and so she cannot sit down and talk frankly with her mother (or her brothers) about her feelings, her fears, her pain. She knows they are trying to help her, and since she herself doesn’t know what she needs, she goes with the flow rather than hurt them. All of it is written in a very realistic and accessible way.

At the time, no one would have understood her melancholy as depression, but man, is it realistically portrayed! She feels adrift, purposeless, and questions everything she’s ever known about marriage, love, society. Her insights are wonderfully realistic because they stem from her painful experience. Which, I might add, doesn’t include a distasteful experience in the marriage bed—here’s another stereotype gracefully avoided by Ms Linden.

The secondary characters are drawn mostly with few deft strokes, with the exception of Celia’s mother, Rosalind, and perhaps the Earl of Warfield, Anthony’s uncle. There are a few scenes told from Rosalind’s point of view which, again, add depth to the undercurrents between family members, their friends and acquaintances.

I very much enjoyed some of the conversations between Celia and the, now married, young ladies she had befriended during her Season, particularly her surprise at how much four years away from London and society life have changed all their perspectives, while hers seems to have veered in a completely different direction than theirs.

The only thing that disappointed me was the entirely unexpected and, in my humble opinion, unnecessary twist near the end. It seemed more than a tad contrived, perhaps because so little screen time was given to the character involved.

Still, the dialogue is great, the pacing is excellent, and the world it recreates comes to life before the reader’s eyes. This is an excellent book indeed.

8.5 out of 10

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