Wednesday, November 19, 2008

The Notorious Rake by Mary Balogh ****

Ah, so I figured out the connections amongst The Trysting Place, A Counterfeit Betrothal and this book. The hero of this book is Lord Edmond Waite from The Trysting Place - the man who pursued Felicity Wren first as a mistress, then as a bride. The heroine is Mary, Lady Mornington, Marc's "friend" from A Counterfeit Betrothal. At the beginning, Mary is trying to get over her loneliness from the loss of her friendship with Marc, and Edmond is still nursing his wounds from being jilted by Felicity - and suffering from the effects of his jilting of his long-time betrothed, Dorothea.

This is the deepest and darkest of the three books, with the accidental death of Edmond's brother some 15 years before coloring his every action from that day forward. He had even considered suicide, which isn't surprising considering his father, his other brother and even his mother - who died shortly after the accidental death - considered him a murderer. The facts of the death were really so shocking that I found it hard to believe that his father could have been so cruel, considering his father was elemental in the circumstances that surrounded the accident.

Those facts drove Edmond to be the rake, the libertine he was - and his shocking jilting of Dorothea for Felicity (in the previous book) made him persona non grata to the ton which exacerbated his condition. It was just happenstance that he appeared in a party at Vauxhall Gardens where Mary went at the invitation of a friend, hoping to re-start her lonely social life. And it was her phobia of lightning that forced her into his arms when they were trapped out walking the gardens.

This was a shocker of a scene for me - her previous books have never had the hero and heroine in a sexual clinch by page 15 before, especially scandalous since they had just met! Mary is certainly ashamed of her actions - her willingness even - but allows him to take her to the home he maintains for mistresses (none currently in residence) and spend the night.

It seems they are both surprised and confused by the attraction. She is not his type at all - she's a bluestocking, hosting weekly intellectual salons in her home; she's petite, not a striking beauty. He is nothing like what she wants or needs in a man - his roving eye alone puts him beyond the pale. Still, he pursues her, against her wishes, and to the outrage of her friends and acquaintances.

Balogh puts an interesting twist into the story in the form of Lord Goodrich - a widower with grown children who pursues Mary for his next wife. Goodrich also maintains a mistress and her 5 children by him, unbeknownst to Mary, and had even before his first wife died. Mary never did find out, but it made an interesting comparison - was Goodrich really better than Edmond? After all, Edmond wasn't married and had no illegitimate children to support. He just liked to party, and put up a good front drinking and gambling, though actually never to excess.

It's Edmond's meddling Aunt Eleanor who provides the catalysts in the book. After Edmond takes Mary to a garden party there, Eleanor can see that Edmond has fallen in love with her, and goes out of her way to include the 2 of them in invitations. As her 60th birthday approaches, she hosts a week-long house party, and invites both Mary and Lord Goodrich, as well as her nephew. Indeed, the surprise guests include her brother and nephew - Edmond's father and brother from whom he is still estranged. Forcing Edmond to face his past and reconcile with his father and brother eventually brings out his true inner nature.

Well, actually, it's a sort of complicated psychological story about a man who has suppressed his true self, running from it and trying as hard as possible to be the very opposite, to live up to the reputation he gained through gossip and innuendo. The true inner nature is what Mary reacts to, and falls in love with even though he hides it from everyone else.

OK - not sure I've explained it well. To be honest, I liked the previous book quite a lot better, but this one I still really liked, so it's a 4 star read and an AAR Top 100 of 2007 checked off.

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