The Perfect Rake is the first chance Iíve had to read one of Anne
Gracieís books, and I hope I donít mow anybody down trying to get to her
backlist. With just one story, she has moved straight to my ďauto-buyĒ
list. This book is fabulous.
Prudence Merridew and her four younger sisters have lived under their
cruel, domineering grandfatherís rule for years, since the death of their
parents. One day Prudence comes to the defense of the youngest, Grace, as
sheís being savagely whipped for drawing Egyptian designs on a reticule for
Prudence. In the ensuing struggle, the grandfather falls down the stairs,
breaking several bones and knocking himself out. Prudence hastily packs
her sisters and two loyal servants and heads for London and their
Charity, Faith, Hope, and Grace will come under Prudenceís guardianship in
a few weeks when she turns twenty-one, and if they can engineer a decent
marriage for just one of the older girls, their financial straits will be
solved as well. Prudence has forged a letter from their grandfather to his
estranged brother, asking Oswald to find the girls decent, sober husbands,
and none of that frivolity nonsense like balls or parties. Great Uncle
Oswald turns out to be a kindly, genial type who is happy to thwart his
brother and introduce the girls into Society. However, he decides that
Prudence must find a husband first, as nobody is likely to notice her
plump, plain appearance once her beautiful sisters make their come-out.
Prudence, who is secretly engaged to a young man named Phillip, panics and
declares she is already engaged to the Duke of Dinstable, a notorious
hermit whose name she overheard. True, she hasnít heard from Phillip in
six months, and since heís been in India for the past four years she has no
way of knowing if heís still alive. But she is betrothed, and she canít
allow her sisters to be held back. Unfortunately for Prudence, the Duke
has returned to London in search of a wife, and Great-Uncle Oswald
immediately decides to go and look him over.
Prudence manages to beat Great-Uncle Oswald to the Dukeís house, where she
confesses her problem Ė but to the wrong man. Gideon, Lord Carradice, is
the Dukeís cousin, and heís charmed and intrigued by Prudence. He plays
along with the charade until they are both exposed, and even then he finds
a way to save the day, but not before stealing an unexpectedly hot kiss
(and being clonked over the head with the Egyptian reticule). His interest
is piqued, to say the least, and he decides to call on Prudence. By the
time Gideon and Prudence extricate themselves from their nonexistent
ďengagementĒ, Gideon is half in love with the indomitable Prudence and
ready to make the engagement real. Prudence, aware of Gideonís reputation
as a womanizing rake, canít believe heíd really be interested in her when
her beautiful sisters are at hand.
There are many, many scenes in this book that will have you grinning, if
not laughing out loud. Anne Gracie must have had fun changing the tone
from desperation and darkness to hope and laughter, and her most effective
vehicle is the youngest Merridew, ten-year-old Grace. In their first
meeting, Grace interrogates Gideon about his treatment of Prudence and ends
up kicking him in both shins, only to stop when Gideon reveals that he
thinks Prudence is lovely.
ĒGrandpapa used to call me a limb of Satan,Ē she confided.
He eyed the offending foot pointedly. ďPerfectly understandable. And that
would be the limb he meant, Iím sure.Ē
Grace, whom Gideon has now christened The Limb, is as natural a child as
anyone could wish, in any story. Gideon, who has never fallen in love with
a woman, is simply wonderful. His treatment of Prudence is honest; he
truly sees her as lovely, and his lighthearted teasing and compliments are
the perfect antidotes to her years of worry and desperation. Prudence is
intelligent, honest, and loyal, perhaps to a fault. Sheís a fine
complement to Gideon, and their romance is endearing with a healthy dose of
sizzle under the surface.
The grandfather re-enters the plot about halfway through, a move I
appreciated because it didnít play out the way I thought it
would. Gideonís maneuvering to help the Merridews and throw the
grandfather off the track allows their relationship to deepen, and a
secondary romance between Charity and the real Duke plays out well. Gideon
and his cousin are good friends of long standing, and their trust in each
other allows several key plot points to move forward in a natural
fashion. It would have been easy for the story to slip into melodrama, as
the grandfather is so patently deranged. But right up to the final climax,
heís relegated to the background. And when we finally discover Gideonís
background, and the reason for the Dukeís hermitage, itís poignant. They
need the Merridews as much as the Merridews need them.
There are several sex scenes near the very end of the story, and these just
didnít seem to work well. They felt obligatory, as if the page count was
running out and nobody had hit the sheets yet, so the author employs a
rather shopworn device to engineer this. It didnít sit as well as the rest
of the story, but itís a small point in an otherwise stellar read.
I canít recommend The Perfect Rake highly enough. The engrossing
plot, the wonderful hero and heroine, and the lively cast of enjoyable
secondary characters make this a book not to be missed. Gideon and
Prudence will steal your hearts, and Grace and Great-Uncle Oswald are sure
to leave you smiling. Best of all, itís the first of a series about the
Merridew sisters. Iíll be waiting impatiently, and in the meantime,
finding that backlist!