Monday 16 November 2015

#CBR7 Book 121: "Cold-Hearted Rake" by Lisa Kleypas

Page count: 384 pages
Rating: 3.5 stars

Devon Ravenel, along with his younger brother West, are the last of a long line of rakish Ravenels. When their cousin, who neither of the brothers could stand dies, Devon unexpectedly inherits an earldom and the accompanying town house, estate and lands. The brothers show up to survey the inheritance when they discover that their cousin had only been married for three days when he managed to get himself thrown off a high-spirited horse in a fit of the legendary Ravenel temper. He left behind a beautiful widow and three younger sisters, who due to Victorian mourning conventions have barely seen anyone but servants for years.

While the estate is quite rich in land, the former earls also left quite a chunk of debt and no modernisation has been done for decades. Devon wants to sell off as much as he can, but Kathleen, his cousin's temperamental widow, is appalled that he would abandon his duties and leave all the people depending on him to fend for themselves. She feels he should step up and take responsibility for his new title, estate and dependants and as he falls madly in lust with her the minute they first start arguing, Devon changes his mind and decides to try to save the lands instead. Anything to spend more time with Kathleen, helping her out of her mourning attire and into his bed.

He enlists the aid of his drunken younger brother, who conveniently turns out to have quite the knack for estate management. He convinces Kathleen to stay on as a companion and tutor of sorts to his young cousins, the serene and bookish Lady Helen and the rambunctious and imaginative twins Cassandra and Pandora. As previously mentioned, Devon wants to seduce Kathleen, but her Catholic scruples and her guilt at what she believes was her culpability in the death of her husband makes her remarkably resistant to his rakish charms.

Cold-Hearted Rake is Lisa Kleypas' first historical romance in five years. The book, which is clearly setting up for a new series, had a lot of people very excited and there were a lot of expectations that needed to be met. Unlike the esteemed Mrs. Julien, whose eloquence on the romance genre puts my humble reviewing efforts to shame, I haven't read the entirety of Ms. Kleypas' historical back catalogue, and I tend to rate quite a few other historical authors higher in my general estimation. Yet there is no denying that Ms. Kleypas is one of the greats and has written some wonderful classics. She's also very good at writing entertaining scoundrels.

Devon seems a pretty typical Kleypas hero. He is handsome and rakish, and initially quite selfish and careless, mainly concerned with his own interests and how he can ruthlessly further them. Of course, taking on his new responsibilities, trying to woo Kathleen and taking care of his female cousins brings about a change in him, making him a gentler, more caring man. He's sworn off marriage for life, but can't get Kathleen out of his mind. They spend a lot of time in spirited banter, both by written correspondence and in person.

Kathleen has, sadly, been brought up to believe that a woman shouldn't really feel any lustful feelings whatsoever. Her brief marriage was SPOILER! never consummated because her husband was a drunken oaf, and what did have time to happen have given her nightmares. There is so much Catholic guilt in her character, and I didn't like it.

One reason this book isn't as satisfying a romance as I think a lot of people were hoping for is that it's as concerned with setting up the whole new series as it is with Devon and Kathleen's romance. There is the beginning redemption of West, there is the beginning of the romance between Lady Helen and Devon's Welsh department store owner friend, Mr. Winterborne and there is getting to know the twins. I'm hoping that later books in the series will be more focused on just one couple at a time. Finally, a note on the cover. I'm assuming the lady on the cover is meant to be Kathleen. As the lady in question is in heavy mourning throughout the whole story, depicting her in a frothy pink dress is just all kinds of wrong.

Crossposted on Cannonball Read.

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