I curled up with Suzanne Enoch’s Reforming a Rake prepared for an enjoyable read. I like historicals and those set in that most popular era, Regency England, are a favorite. It was with growing disappointment, therefore, that I realized this was not going to be the experience I’d been anticipating. This book would seem to have all the right pieces in place. And yet, when assembled, they didn’t always add up to a satisfying whole.
Alexandra Gallant is a twenty-four year-old spinster. She is an independent-minded young woman, well educated and taught to think for herself by avant-garde parents. When, at the tender young age of seventeen, she lost them, she was able to support herself as a companion and governess, expertly trained for preparing young ladies for their coming-out. Alexandra was managing quite well until an unpleasant incident with one of her employers left her reputation in tatters and she was dismissed without a reference. She has been unable to find another post so when the infamous Lucien Balfour, sixth Earl of Kilcairn Abbey offers her a post as governess to his young niece, she accepts.
Unmarried, tall, dark and dangerous, Lucien Balfour is the quintessential London rake. He enjoys his unmarried state and has no intention of altering a single element of his lifestyle. A cynic when it comes to women, he doesn’t believe in love or family and will be happy to have his niece and her mother gone as soon as possible. Within moments of setting eyes on the ‘delicious’ Alexandra, he vows to have her as his mistress. Moreover, he lets her know it in their first encounter.
This is the first of the implausible plot elements that were not sufficiently explained. Alexandra is in her current state of desperation because of a lecherous previous employer. Why, then, would she so readily accept Lord Kilcairn’s offer? The author gives us some explanation, but not enough. And this is a problem that plagues the rest of the book. Over and over, the question kept arising: ‘What’s the motivation?’ The characters aren’t developed enough to make us believe what they do. It’s as if they were one-dimensional cardboard cutouts, set upon a shelf. The author takes them out, puts them on her stage and makes them act out scenes. We’re not given enough background and insight to know what motivates them.
This is also evident in the treatment of the secondary characters. For example, Lucien’s niece, Rose, starts out as a rather flighty, nervous seventeen-year-old, under her mother’s thumb. She is prone to breaking down into tears at the slightest provocation. It is Alexandra’s task to whip her into shape so she can catch an eligible husband in her first London season. As Rose begins to respond to Alexandra’s influence, we’re meant to see a transformation. But, like so much of this book, we’re told about her transformation rather than seeing it for ourselves. More showing and less telling would have made this a much better story.
Having said all that, I still give Reforming a Rake three hearts because there are some charming moments. Lucien is an appealing and sexy hero, blustering and complaining on the outside, but somehow managing to do the right thing. I admire Alexandra’s independence, in spite of the fact that her stubborn resistance of Lucien did get more than a little tiresome at times. There is a satisfying sexual tension between the two and the resolution is touching. You may not put Reforming a Rake on your keeper shelf, but it’s still worth a read.