The Perfect Rake, by Anne Gracie

18 Jul
Cover for THE PERFECT RAKE: On a white field with faint silver swirly designs, a pair of 1800s white women's shoes, with a little bouquet of white roses and a men's pocket watch are grouped near the bottom. There's a cover quote from author Stefanie Laurens: "For fabulous Regency flavor, witty and addictive, you can't go past Anne Gracie"

The Perfect Rake is the first of the Merridew Sisters books by Anne Gracie.

I mentioned long ago that I had liked this book very much, and I still like many things about it. However, it suffers in the re-read, because I have a lot less patience for some tropes than I once did.

Reader beware: yearslong physical and emotional abuse of children and young girls, on page; rape of a teenager as character backstory; miscarriage; death of parents. There’s a couple of spoilers in this review, and I swear a couple of times.

The Perfect Rake, by Anne Gracie

The background for the series is this: the only son and heir apparent to Lord Dereham falls in love with a wealthy cit whose grandfather was a butcher. Neither family approves of the marriage, so they run away to Italy, where they live happily, very much in love, begetting five daughters.

When the oldest daughter is 13 and the youngest still a toddler, the couple dies from a fever (potentially the plague). The five girls end up in the custody of their paternal grandfather, a violent and hateful asshole who, natch, is increasingly more violent, using religion as justification for his abuse.

However, not all is doom and gloom.

Prudence has been biding her time: in just a few more weeks, she’ll be able to take her sisters away from their prison, even if they have no money. Per their father’s will, once Prudence turns 21, she’ll become guardian of all her sisters, and when they each marry, they’ll receive the dowry their parents left them.

Once free of their grandfather, she’s sure at least one of her beautiful sisters will find someone to marry quickly.

Of course, things come to a head (the novel opens with a beating), and they must flee at once.

Here’s the blurb from my print copy:

She ran from a brute…

Fate has lavished beauty on the Merridew sisters–that is, all save the eldest. But plain Prudence bears no grudge–she loves her four beautiful sisters infinitely. So when their brutal grandfather is laid up with an injury, she sizes the opportunity to concoct an ingenious escape plan for all five of them–and fast.

…into the arms of a rake

Renowned rake Gideon, Lord Carradice, has a way of making ladies swoon. But when Prudence arrives at his doorstep–mistaking him for his cousin, the duke–it is Gideon who’s infatuated. For some reason, this delightful spitfire has told her uncle that she and the duke are engaged…although a taller tale was never told. But so take is Gideon with this charming miss that he’s eager to join the game, especially if it includes a stolen kiss or two. Now Prudence’s plot is going terribly–if deliciously–awry.

The conceit of the romance is that all of Prudence’s sisters are not just pretty, but stupefyingly beautiful; in fact, Charity, the second sister, is described as exquisite, the most beautiful creature in England. They are all tall and slender, either strawberry blonde or gloriously redheaded, with delicate features and intense blue eyes. In contrast, Prudence is short, has actual breasts and hips, and a long aquiline nose; therefore, everyone considers her ‘the ugly sister’–including herself.

In fact, when our hero meets Prudence, he’s not particularly impressed with her, thinking something along the lines of, “pretty but unremarkable”. Then, they actually start interacting, and by the time Gideon meets her sisters, she’s THE beautiful one in his eyes. In fact, there’s a running gag where everyone else does a double take when Gideon corrects them if they say or imply that any of her sisters is prettier than Prudence; it’s very sweet, actually.

Prudence, even though she’s attracted to Gideon right back (there is real chemistry between them, and their banter is delicious), won’t let him court her.

Because while her engagement to the Duke of Dinstable was a desperate lie, Prudence been “secretly engaged” for over four and a half years, to one Phillip Otterbury, a younger son of a nearby family, who has been gone to India for basically the whole time.

Mind you, it’s clear to everyone, including her very innocent sisters, that Philip has completely forgotten Prudence, if he ever actually cared for her; it’s been ages since he even replied to any of her letters.

It’s also clear that, at least at the beginning of the book, Prudence believes that Philip will be her one and only chance to marry; partly because she’s “the ugly one” and partly, as we learn later, because she ended up pregnant, miscarrying shortly after he left. So it’s not just that’ she’s engaged, but that if she’s not, she’s ruined.

However, by the time we learn of this, Gideon had more than proved the depth of his feelings to Prudence, so her clinging to “but I made a promise, I must keep it!” had become less and less convincing with every iteration.

For his part, Gideon has his own tragic and scandalous family history to overcome, involving his cousin Edward, Duke of Dinstable, which makes his reaction to Prudence all the more remarkable to everyone who knows him. (Here I have to mention that I tire of the “my mother was an amoral light-skirt” trope for character backstory of the rake in the title.)

Most of the novel is light and quite entertaining; Gideon’s sense of humor, Prudence’s wit and spirit, and more than a few hilarious misunderstandings, several involving Sir Oswald, the sisters’ great uncle, had me giggling more than once.

The dialogue is witty and the characters engaging, even if there are a few slightly too…whimsical? twee? bits here and there in the novel. I did like that the other sisters, while having a lot less page space, have actual personalities; the relationships between them all are clearly and fairly economically drawn.

There’s also a sweet secondary romance between Charity and Edward, and I closed the book convinced that they, and Gideon and Prudence, will be happy.

However, I have serious issues with a couple of things, such as Prudence refusing, repeatedly, to talk plainly with Gideon, which leads to a heartbreaking confrontation; and one incredibly offensive instance of the “blood is thicker than water” trope (spoilers for the last act below).

So where does that leave me?

I am not sure. I really enjoyed Ms Gracie’s writing voice and sense of humor, and based on that alone, I’d give this book at least 8:00 out of 10. However, when weighing in my issues with the plot (Phillip’s entire storyline) and the “but family” thing, the rating goes down quite a bit.

The Perfect Rake get a 6.50 out of 10

* * * *

Spoilers ahoy, ye’ve been warned!

* * * *

At one point, right after her grandfather has abducted Prudence, Gideon shows up to rescue her, finding Prudence tied up and bruised, and he…offers to make pax with Lord Dereham. Just, “when I marry her we’ll be family, so let bygones be bygones”, and I’m sorry. WHAT THE EVERLASTING FUCK.

I presume the point here is to showcase how generous and good a person Gideon is, in the same way that Prudence keeping her word is meant to show how different she is to his own mother, but, and I can’t stress this enough, WHAT THE EVERLASTING FUCK.

Not only is this offered when he’s rescuing her from a man who tied her up and hit her, but at this Gideon has known for weeks that the fucker beat all the sisters regularly, but especially Prudence and Grace, the youngest.

But sure, forgive the bastard because “family”.

5 Responses to “The Perfect Rake, by Anne Gracie”

  1. Lori 18/07/2022 at 2:56 PM #

    Ooooooh. I’m reading this review and thinking “this sounds delightful, I can overlook the little things, this really sounds good” and then the spoiler and my stomach dropped. Absolute brutality and “hey, we can be friends and forget all this, right?”

    Okay. Great review. Will not read. Have to take a shower and wash the spoiler off me.

    • azteclady 18/07/2022 at 3:49 PM #

      Yeah.

      I mean, the abuse on page up to then is bad–BAD.(there are further revelations that make it even worse), and we have the precedent of Prudence’s father estrangement with his father, so there was no narrative reason to seek appeasement on the basis of family ties.

      It’s like some sort of ingrained, “this automatically signals that a character is a good person”, when we all know it’s bullshit that harms, and often endangers, people by keeping them in touch with abusive assholes.

      • willaful 18/07/2022 at 9:28 PM #

        I think it’s a different pattern of thinking, more common in older romance than it is now. (Though probably still prevalent in the general population.)

        I actually just bought this, because the ebook was on sale and it was one of my very first favorites. Not sure I’ll ever actually want to reread it though.

  2. SuperWendy 23/07/2022 at 1:56 PM #

    I read this. I know I read it. And thank the sweet baby Jesus I blogged about it because I had no recall on what I thought it other than I “liked” it (I gave it a B grade). After re-reading my review (from 2020! Time flies yo), my biggest issue was the tone. It seemed all over the place. The story is farcical in parts and then you have dear old Granddad beating the crap out of his grandchildren. It was this weird mix of angst and light/fluff that didn’t always gel for me.

    • azteclady 23/07/2022 at 3:17 PM #

      Yes, exactly! I was commenting on someone else’s review that it seems that authors want to write light and fluffy historicals (which, VALID), but still want to make their characters more…real, I guess? by giving them these horrid, heavy backstories.

      And then, of course, they don’t know what to do with the heavy stuff, and you end with this type of story, where two entirely different tones are uncomfortable mashed together.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: