Regency romance review: ‘To Kiss A Rake’ by Barbara Monajem

September 9, 2016 Review 0

Sometimes when I’m looking for a book to read, I feel the need to do some research for my own Regency romances. So it is with this one. I picked it from the top of Amazon’s popularity lists, and since it’s more than a year old, it must be a good example of a well-targeted book that’s selling well because it gives readers exactly what they want.

First appearances are so-so. The title is exactly like a million other Regencies (To Kiss/Marry/Desire/Love a Rake/Duke/Scoundrel/Lord). Nothing terribly original there. And the cover is also like a million others — a modern couple in vaguely old-fashioned clothes, the man half-naked, the woman in full make-up, in a clinch. So far, so meh.

But the opening chapters are good. Our feisty heroine, Melinda, is helping out a friend who’s cried off from an elopement. She agrees to leave a ball to inform the man that it’s all off, the friend being too cowardly. But instead she meets our sturdy hero, Miles, who is helping his friend manage the elopement. Owing to a misunderstanding followed by a bump on the head, Melinda is abducted instead of the friend and finds herself stranded at an inn far from home with a strange man. He tries to get her home, but (naturally) they’re spotted and recognised. Now, it takes some industrial strength suspension of disbelief to accept all the missteps that have to happen to get to this point. In particular, it’s necessary for Melinda to be believably misidentified as the eloping girl, and I confess to rolling my eyes once or twice. Still, I can forgive a little contrivance to get the ball rolling.

It’s after this point that things begin to go off the rails somewhat. The plot requires a lot of characters to behave in, frankly, incredible ways. I found it impossible to believe in the evil grandmother, and the author has painted a harsh picture of Regency society, entirely filled, it seems, with shallow, immoral and selfish people without an ounce of humanity. I know times were very different then, but people were still people, with just the same range of weaknesses and strengths as modern people, not almost uniformly horrible, as here. Nor did I find Miles’s loss of reputation very believable. Then there’s the ongoing elopement plot, which centred on possibly the stupidest girl in Christendom. This sort of thing is fairly common for the genre, though, it has to be said.

Of the main characters, I liked Miles very much. Melinda, not so much. The romance side of things is good, although there’s a bit too much insta-lurve, and the whole virgin-to-sex-fiend-after-one-kiss trope has been done endlessly, and should die a fiery death. But the build-up was good and the sex scenes were good, so there’s that. But I wanted to bang their heads together to knock some sense into them. I know they both had the obligatory tortured backgrounds and all those emotional scars, yada yada yada, but they were also intelligent and rational people who whined and angsted and got annoyed with each other far too much. They made far too many decisions based on assumptions about what the other would feel, which were inevitably wrong. Ultimately, this book failed one of my acid tests for plot credibility, in that there would have been no plot at all worth the name if the characters had just sat down and talked to each other.

There isn’t anything wrong with this book. It’s well-written and easy to read, although the constant head-hopping from Miles to Melinda and back made me dizzy. There were a few word choices that surprised me (bum, for instance) but I assume the author’s done her research on that. The Regency setting isn’t very pronounced, and apart from the odd reference to Almack’s and the like, the book could have been set anytime up to the late Victorian era without major changes (it’s actually set in 1804). I didn’t notice any glaring errors, which was pleasant.

For anyone who’s looking for a typical modern Regency romance, with plenty of sex and agonising, and isn’t bothered by a certain amount of starkly black and white characterisation, I can recommend this. It wasn’t much to my personal taste, and I did quite a bit of skimming to get to the end, so it’s just three stars.

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