Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Review of Kasey Michaels’ The Taming of the Rake

Lately I’ve been lucky enough to read several books by newly published authors, and it has been so exciting to see the fresh ideas and voices that these authors bring to their novels. That said, it was a distinct pleasure to delve into a book by such an accomplished novelist as Kasey Michaels. Despite her more than 100 books published, many written in the Regency era, this long-time reader of regency romance had never read one of Ms. Michaels’ books. After reading the first book in her new Blackthorn Brothers series, that will definitely be changing. The Taming of the Rake is a delightful Regency romance that at heart is a road trip novel. In my experience, nothing reveals one’s true character like travelling, and I freely admit to being a less than ideal traveler. Fortunately, the characters in The Taming of the Rake are much more pleasant travel companions than I, leaving us with a hero and heroine who begin their trip to Gretna Green as mere acquaintances but end it as friends and lovers.
The novel begins with young buck Oliver “Beau” Blackthorn, illegitimate son of a Marquess and actress mother, making his way to Lady Madelyn Mills-Beckman’s townhouse in London to propose marriage. As the lady has not expressed displeasure with his attentions and he’s madly in love, he believes his suit to be welcome. Unfortunately, that could not be further from the truth, as her brother Thomas has Beau tossed from the house and held down by footmen so he can give Beau a sound whipping. At that moment Beau realizes that his belief that he was accepted among the ton despite his illegitimacy has proved false, and he vows to act accordingly in the future.
Fast forward seven years, and we witness Thomas Mills-Beckman informing his youngest sister, Chelsea, that she will be marrying the odious Reverend Francis Flotley, even if Thomas has to lock her up in their country home to force her compliance. Realizing that Thomas is in earnest, Lady Chelsea decides to take action and flees from her home straight to the bachelor pad of one Oliver “Beau” Blackthorn. This is not as random an act as it initially appears. Chelsea had witnessed the humiliating whipping seven years ago and has realized that the recent financial losses her brother has steadily been experiencing are thanks to Mr. Blackthorn. While she wouldn’t deny him his revenge, her belief that he has inflicted the Reverend Flotley on her brother’s household and now upon herself leaves her with no choice but to confront Oliver.
This confrontation occurs immediately following Oliver’s thirtieth birthday, and the celebration with his brother Robin Goodfellow “Puck” Blackthorn has left him with a lovely hangover. Oliver freely admits to Chelsea that he has been behind the constant flow of questionable financial schemes her brother has found himself in, but Oliver has never even heard of Francis Flotley. He admits that he wishes he had thought of the idea, as it would be an amusing revenge. Instead, he decides that he will accept Lady Chelsea’s plan to elope, as that will be the ideal revenge against a man who would not allow his other sister to marry a bastard. The two elope, and their numerous adventures on the way to Gretna Green draw them closer, making it more difficult to resist anticipating the marriage than either expected.
I thoroughly enjoyed this book for two reasons. The first is that the romance between the hero and heroine develops gradually over time. You truly come to believe that Lady Chelsea and Oliver have become friends over the course of their travels together. Their adventures are frequently uncomfortable, since at times neither of them has a change of clothes, but they find ways to overcome each obstacle. When they begin their elopement, each is perfectly clear that s/he is using the other for his/her own gain. Chelsea wants to escape marriage to the wet-mouthed Flotley, and Oliver wants to revenge himself upon her brother. But despite their initial reasons for acting, they grow to like and eventually love one another, and it makes for a sweet romance. Chelsea learns to care for this son of two very selfish parents who never considered how their actions would have a profound impact on his and his brothers’ futures. The revelations of how Oliver’s parents relationship came to be are equal parts poignant and troubled. Chelsea can’t help feeling for him, and her ability to surprise Oliver with her understanding and unfailing optimism leads to his falling for a woman who under any other circumstances would be out of his reach.
After reading everything I’ve written so far, you’d never guess that the second reason I enjoyed this novel so much is that it is so. very. funny. It is, in fact, HILARIOUS. While Oliver strives to overcome his illegitimacy by working hard, his youngest brother Puck seeks acceptance through flippancy and lightheartedness. Puck has some side-splitting one-liners that will have you laughing out loud. At one point he tells Oliver that “there are worse things than marriage to a rich, handsome and eminently affable bastard. That would be me, you understand. You’re just rich and passably handsome.” But the zingers aren’t limited to Puck. Chelsea can hold her own, and she does so on frequent occasion. At one point she informs Puck, “It’s not a proper elopement if one brings one’s brother along. Especially one who sings.” But it’s Oliver who points out that Puck and Chelsea “suit each other so well, the both of you missing several slates off your roofs.” The laughter stemming from each of the three madcaps involved in this elopement (because Oliver does indeed bring his brother along for parts of the journey) is vitally necessary to the love deprived Chelsea and illegitimate Oliver.
If I had to find fault with the novel, it is that Chelsea and Oliver begin their journey as such selfish characters. Chelsea storms into Oliver’s home, leaving him little recourse except to accept her plan to marry, whether he is in fact guilty of inflicting the Reverend Flotley on her or not. If the elopement fails, Oliver would face overwhelming consequences, such as imprisonment or hanging, because of the circumstances surrounding his birth. Chelsea doesn’t acknowledge her selfish actions at all, and it’s not an endearing trait. Oliver also acts to ensure his revenge, despite knowing that marriage to him will entail social ruin for his future wife and children. He, however, does recognize the possible consequences of his actions and makes it clear to Chelsea on several occasions that they can turn back and she can still avoid paying the price for her precipitous actions. In this, he is a far more likeable character than Chelsea.
I can’t recommend Ms. Michaels’ The Taming of the Rake highly enough. The choice of a road trip novel set in regency era England strikes me as ingenious, and I love the characters. But the best part for me is that the witty repartee kept me in stitches, which has me anxious to read future installments of this series.

(I would like to point out two  problems I have with the cover of this book that are clearly not Ms. Michaels' fault. First, Oliver is blonde and the man on the cover is brunet. Second, the title is "The Taming of the Rake," yet he's not really a rake. I wish the publisher would take note, since they are usually the ones choosing cover art and suggesting titles.) 
This book was received for review from the Publisher through NetGalley.

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