Once A Rake
2007, European Historical Romance (Regency England)
Zebra, $4.99, 448 pages, Amazon ASIN 0821780581
I hate to say this, but fond as I am of a nice long historical romance, Once A Rake would have been so much better had it been a lot shorter. The characters were very nice, very likable, and I always enjoy a Beauty and the Beast story, but it rambled on and on and on till my eyes glazed over. Then there's the hero's name - but I will get to that later.
The Earl of Ashby came into his title at a young age. No poverty stricken peer he, Ashby had it all: good looks, lots of money, nice homes, and a good friend in Will Aubrey. Will's sister Isabel, quite hero worships Ashby and he is fond of the pretty feisty girl. Maybe too fond, she is ten years younger than he is and when she gives him an innocent kiss on the eve of his leaving to fight with Wellington, he is shaken and feels like a debaucher.
When the story begins, Isabel is now 25 and known for her charitable work on behalf of the widows and other relatives of soldiers who died in the Napoleonic Wars - work she does in memory of her brother Will who was killed at Waterloo. Her family wants her to marry and she has several suitors but Isabel is quite consumed with her work. As for Ashby, he has become a recluse. He suffered facial scars during the war, and upon his return home, sequestered himself in the basement. Since coming home, he has been whispered about and is called The Gargoyle. Isabel, not inclined to listen to ton gossip, decides that Ashby could help her and, being the forthright young woman that she is, forces her way into his lair. Soon they have rekindled their friendship and Isabel makes it her mission to bring Ashby back into the social life.
Most of the book is about Isabel and Ashby dancing around each other. She forces him out of his comfort zone and ever so gradually eases him back into society. Since for several years the only person that he talked to was the butler, this takes some time, but Isabel will not let up. However, Isabel's mother and older brother are constantly pressing her to accept an engagement from Lord John Hanson, who is eminently suitable in every way. This being a romance novel, we know that Lord John (Isabel sometimes refers to him as LJ, a modern touch that made me wonder who her BFF was) is hiding a nasty secret under his perfect exterior. And so he is.
Both Isabel and Ashby are wonderful characters. She is smart, brave and independent without being silly or childish. He is smart, kind, heroic and loving. However they are both stubborn and prone to act first and think later, which causes them to misunderstand each other and act silly and childish at times. This keeps them apart and causes the book to drag on and on long after I was ready for it to end. The love scenes are sensual, but they are written in old-school purple prose that, at times, was almost laugh out loud funny, and they too dragged on and on until I began to skim them in self defense.
If Once A Rake had been shorter and moved along faster, I know I would have enjoyed it more, but as it is I can sum it up by describing it as two great characters who are lost in a morass of plot and purple prose. Oh, and about Ashby's name.....his family was fond of the classics and named him after one of the heroes of The Illiad - Paris. Yes, his name is Paris, and yes I would dare say that most readers think of Miss Hilton when they see a character with that name. Thank goodness he was mostly referred to as Ashby, but there were a few instances during a love scene when Isabel kept calling him Paris, and those mental images did a number on me.
-- Ellen Micheletti
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