The Rake and England’s Perfect Hero, by Suzanne Enoch

Suzanne Enoch loves Star Wars to a rather unreasonable degree, which I very much appreciate. She writes primarily historical, Regency-era romance novels, with a second contemporary series floating around. I discovered her from an anthology of stories related to Julia Quinn’s Bridgerton series, called Lady Whistledown Strikes Back. These are two books that bookend the “Lessons in Love” trilogy, but they form an interesting pair, being that the heroes are a pair of brothers, and what happens in the second volume isn’t necessary to know to read the third. They even come after a related volume whose title I’ve forgotten, but I’ll Google it when I’m not in Torts class. (Ahh. A Matter of Scandal.)

At the ends of their wits, one day three young women become frustrated with the general quality of the young, eligible men in the ton, and determine to teach three of them — one each — lessons. In The Rake, the first volume, Lady Georgianna Halley decides to instruct Tristan Carroway, Viscount Dare, with whom she has had an adversarial relationship for the last eight years. Of course, their adversarial relationship is masking the fact that there’s a deep attraction there. A year or so later, Lucinda Barrett, the last of the three friends, realizing that the other two ended up marrying the objects of their lessons (oh, come on, not a spoiler), chooses Lord Geoffrey Newcombe. Lord Geoffrey, aside from being handsome, is safe and her father, General Barrett, likes him. Unfortunately, Robert Carroway, Tristan’s younger brother, has sort of gotten in the way . . .

I very much enjoy The Rake, because it is the best possible use of the Big Mis(understanding) plot. It’s not annoyingly offensive in the way that most Big Mis plots are. The entire issue of Georgianna trusting Tristan couldn’t actually be resolved by one conversation, although they do have that conversation well before the end of the story. A normal Big Mis plot, of course, uses some sort of stupid idea — like the heroine thinks the hero is poor (see On a Wicked Dawn, Stephanie Laurens) and agrees to marry him because of that. (Something that is generally rather easily resolved, unless there’s a series of misunderstandings based on that, or a time-lapse issue.) Not so with this one.

England’s Perfect Hero is rather well-known throughout the romance-novel world for being the best discussion of post-traumatic stress disorder in a romance novel, ever. Even in the first book, it’s pretty obvious to those who know something of the symptoms of PTSD that Robert suffers from it, due to his experiences in the Napoleonic Wars. Unlike other romance novels with PTSD characters, especially historical ones, this one doesn’t magically heal Robert twenty pages in so that he can get to Lucinda. He isn’t really even healed by the end of the book, although he is significantly better. He struggles, though, on nearly every page, and Lucinda’s love isn’t the Magical Healing Device(TM) that it can be in so many other novels.

This volume is pretty much my favorite romance novel of all time. As a matter of fact, I have three copies of it at present. I understand this book has issues; apparently there’s some stuff with the horses that isn’t terribly realistic. But, more than many other books, for Robert, there are actual consequences to his actions. He dances all evening, after having not danced for years (and having a knee blown out), he cannot walk for the next few days. He forces down panic attacks, and they build up to a later, larger one. (Most of that happens off the page, though.) He disappears and comes home late, on more than one occasion, and his littlest brother Edward is mad at him. (Or all of his brothers.) Robert is cool to Lucinda one day, and she merely leaves.

The characters, who are generally the same between the two books, are outstanding. Robert has one quite useful scene in The Rake that sets up his story in the third volume (and the idea that he can even be a romance novel hero, despite his tortured past). I can’t remember if I actually read vol. 3 before vol. 1, because I think I read them originally in 2005, but it seems likely, based on my vaguely-remembered reaction to Robert’s appearance in the first volume. (In other words, don’t overlook him.) I love all three of the heroines — Georgiana, the highest-born, most outspoken, and the one with the most to hide; Evie, the still waters that run deep; and Lucinda, the calmest and most organized one. Their personalities — which are even developed back as far as the mostly-shared prologue to each volume — definintely influence their stories (in other words, these are not interchangeable heroines) and their choices of mates.

There are some minor characters, like Tristan and Robert’s brother Bradshaw and Lucinda’s father General Barrett, who are outstanding as well. I rather enjoyed every moment that they appear on stage in both volumes. Bradshaw is rather not as exemplary as his brothers; I can’t see that she ever gave him a short story or anything, so he remains a rogue with some suspect taste. It’s nice to see men of good family who are actually sort of mixed, as opposed to both Tristan and Robert who had to be at least partially reformed (good intentions at the very least) at some point.

Overall, these two (and, of course, the intermediary volume, my copy of which is 750 miles away and not recently re-read) come highly recommended, and I would actually suggest that they form a good introduction to Regency-era historical romance. 4/5 stars for The Rake, and 5/5 for England’s Perfect Hero.

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