All the elements of this story have been used before ... any number of times: rakish lord steeped in vice and debauchery, circumstance dumps rakish lord in the road outside virtuous heroine’s quaint country cottage, rakish lord thinking he must be dead mistakes virtuous heroine for angel, rakish lord nursed by virtuous heroine back to health, love ensues redeeming rakish lord. A Rake’s Redemption demonstrates that a talented author can take those familiar elements and turn them into a delightful tale.
The Earl of Hardcastle wins a gambling bet with Baron Fossey; the younger man has lost his entire estate. Hardcastle goes to Fossey’s rooms the following morning to collect his winnings, but Fossey has left for his home in Oxfordshire. Hardcastle is irate; gentlemen do not duck their debts of honor. He pursues him into Oxfordshire.
Not far from Fossey’s estate that same night he is accosted by highwaymen, robbed and badly beaten. In the morning his unconscious body is discovered near the home of Phaedra Gillian and her father, a scholarly retired vicar. Phaedra is a twenty-seven-year-old spinster who is highly regarded by all. She has him carried inside where she tends him.
Due to the gravity of his injuries, Hardcastle recovers slowly. When asked his name, he can only utter his first name, Lawrence, so Phaedra believes him to be Mr. Lawrence. News of the injured stranger spreads rapidly through the small village. Curious neighbors make their way to her cottage and eventually his true identity is revealed. He is the notorious Lord Hardcastle, a rake of the first order. Phaedra has come to know another Hardcastle: a man who is considerate and appreciative of her and good company for her near-recluse father.
Deborah Daintry is the daughter of the local squire. She and Baron Fossey are in love, but her father insisted that she have a London season before he would agree to their being married. Now Fossey seems to have rejected her. She seeks comfort from her friend Phaedra.
When Phaedra learns what brought Hardcastle to Oxfordshire, she is distressed. How could the man she had come to like do something so despicable as deprive the young baron, his mother, and sister of their only home? Ruin Deborah’s life? Is there nothing she can do to dissuade Hardcastle from his course?
Lately I’ve been disappointed with the Regency romances I’ve read. The light-hearted charm that characterizes this sub-genre seems to have disappeared. The plots are uninspired; the characters are one-dimensional. What a pleasure it is to find a Regency with lively characters and an entertaining plot.
The characters distinguish A Rake’s Redemption from a host of flat Regencies. They come alive on the page and instill new spirit in a stock plot. Hardcastle, although a debauched rake, is a man who puts honor above other qualities. His appreciation of honor is an early indication that he is not completely lost to virtue. He pursues Fossey into Oxfordshire because he refuses to let him avoid his debt of honor. Ultimately honor requires that although he desires her greatly, he cannot let Phaedra bring dishonor upon herself.
Phaedra isn’t one of those saintly heroines who can do everything well, who never entertains a bad thought, and as a result is more irritating than admirable. Yes, she’s kind, generous, loyal, and proficient, but she also has a more self-centered side. She has serious regrets that she seems destined never to have a husband or children and she’s wounded when Deborah refers to a “spinster like you.”
It’s understandable that Hardcastle would fall in love with her as unequal in station though they are. In her he sees the qualities that would lead a man to prefer spending evenings with his wife over nights gambling at his club, a previously incomprehensible concept. In the same way, Phaedra sees the man beneath the rake, the man who is not above playing chess with her father. It is difficult for her to reconcile this likeable man with the one who would easily ruin the lives of others in the name of honor.
Mr. Gillian comes as a relief to a long-time romance reader. Too many similar fictional fathers are absent-minded and neglectful to the extreme. Mr. Gillian steps out of the stereotype. He’s not a narrow-minded bigot, has a sense of humor, and actively loves and appreciates his daughter.
Even minor characters have vitality, particularly Mrs. Peckenham, an inveterate gossip who at first seems like the stereotypical annoying busybody but who ultimately shows she truly cares that Phaedra not repeat her mistakes. The over-all impression is, yes, village life could really be like this.
Donna Simpson is a new Regency author to me, but she’s clearly one of the best around and I’ll be looking for other books by her. I’m giving A Rake’s Redemption a four-heart recommendation because it’s simply the most enjoyable Regency romance I’ve read in months. If you’re a Regency fan, you won’t want to miss it.