Desert Isle Keeper Review

The Notorious Rake

Mary Balogh
1992, Regency Romance
Signet, $3.99, Amazon ASIN 0451174194
Part of a series

Grade: A
Sensuality: Subtle

I enjoy Regencies every so often, but of all those I have read, I have kept only three. The typical Regency is lightly humorous, full of witty dialogue and charming characters. Even the best ones tend to have an interchangeable quality about them. The Notorious Rake is different. First of all, it is darker and more intense than most Regencies. But what really sets it apart are the characters and the conflict. The hero and heroine are so different that it is nearly impossible to picture them starring together in a HEA ending. The conflict between them seems unresolvable. This is a romance, of course, so you know they will be together, but watching them get there is quite a ride.

Mary, Lady Mornington, is a prim widow known for hosting intellectual salons. One night she is invited to a picnic in Vauxhall Gardens. When she arrives, she is annoyed to learn that Edmond, Lord Waite, is present. Edmond is a notorious rake who is only barely received. Mary resolves to ignore him, but they end up taking a walk together. When they are far away from the other members of their party, a violent storm strikes and they are forced to take shelter in a small hut. But Mary has a paralyzing fear of storms. Her first husband was in the army during the Napoleonic Wars, and she was with him until he was killed. While they were encamped in Spain, a violent thunderstorm killed four soldiers in the tent next to theirs. Ever since that time, storms have made her completely hysterical. While Mary and Edmond are stranded, he ends up comforting her by making love to her.

Edmond believes he has found himself a new mistress, and he is surprised to discover that Mary wants nothing more to do with him. He continues to pursue her, and his behavior during this period is totally obnoxious. He makes rude comments and constantly tries to get Mary alone. But while she is doing her best to avoid him, she is slowly discovering that there is more to Edmond than meets the eye. Fifteen years ago, Edmond's brother Dick was killed in a riding accident, and Edmond's family blamed him. Determined to live up to their low opinion of him, Edmond became known as a debauched gambler and seducer of women. When Edmond does arouse Mary's sympathy, he feels that he is not good enough for her and behaves even more poorly to try to drive her away.

Meanwhile, Mary is being seriously courted by Lord Goodrich, who seems to be the perfect match for her. But as much as she wants to marry him and have some stability in her life, she can't forget her feelings for Edmond. When they are all invited to a house party by Edmond's aunt, Mary is able to compare the two men. Suddenly Lord Goodrich starts to look worse, and Edmond looks better in comparison. But still Edmond persists in his obnoxious behavior. Not until the end of the book does he finally drop the mask he wears for society and confess his love to Mary, but it is well worth the wait. The scene in which he proposes is one of my favorites in all of romance.

Edmond is a rare and special hero. This is no one-dimensional "good guy". At first the goodness in his nature is hidden even from the reader. But as soon as you find out the reasons for his actions, you can't help rooting for him. Edmond's shocking behavior made me want to shake him at times, but his faults made him a worthy hero. By the time he redeems himself in the end, he has really earned Mary's affection. Mary is also a well-developed character. Independent and a bit of a bluestocking, she is made vulnerable by her fear of storms. Her love for Edmond poses a strong moral dilemma for her. The resulting battle between her head and her heart endears her to the reader.

The conflict also sets this book apart from the average Regency. The storm scene in which Edmond and Mary make love comes at the beginning of the book, and it is truly shocking. They hardly know each other! The two of them seem to be polar opposites, and it is impossible to predict how their differences will be overcome. At times Edmond seems beyond hope. It is wonderful to watch his whole life change because of his love for Mary. His transformation unfolds gradually, and almost painfully. Meanwhile the reader alternately rejoices when he makes an improvement in his life, and cringes when he backslides.

Like many of the best romances, The Notorious Rake is all about the redeeming power of love. It has complicated characters you can really care about, and a plot that is neither conventional nor obvious. I have enjoyed many of Mary Balogh's books; A Certain Magic, Indiscreet, and Tangled are all particular favorites of mine. But The Notorious Rake is Balogh at her very best, and it remains my all-time favorite by her.

-- Blythe Barnhill

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