Review by Em
I’ll admit I love a good rake and it’s a treat to witness the best ones fumble, bumble and stumble after meeting their one true love. I had high hopes for The Ton’s Most Notorious Rake, but (to my chagrin), the version presented in Ms. Mallory’s book is actually a pretty great guy; his confused affection for the heroine is a highlight of the story. Because his alleged rakish behavior takes place off-page (before he meets our heroine), Ms. Mallory’s novel instead serves as a cautionary tale about the perils of judging a person before you get to know them. Although the writing is strong and the principals well matched, the frustrating on-again, off-again relationship disrupts the flow of the story and ultimately detracted from my pleasure in it. Folks, this is a gentle, low heat, slow burner of a novel – and if that’s your thing, you’ll find much to like within its pages.
Young widow Molly Morgan keeps house for her brother, Edwin Frayne, the vicar of Compton Parva. Shortly after her arrival, she used her widow’s portion to start Prospect House, a refuge for women forced to flee or leave their homes with nothing but the clothes on their backs. Their stories are heartbreaking, but Prospect House offers a second chance. There, the women learn practical skills and run the adjacent farm – selling their products and surplus at the local market, and mostly keeping to themselves. For the past few years, Molly has spent her days helping Edwin in the community and lending a hand at Prospect whenever she can. From the outset, it’s clear Molly’s marriage was traumatic and provided the impetus for her to open the home, although the author leaves the details deliberately vague.
Molly loves her peaceful life in the small village. The women at Prospect House are benevolently supported by their community, the farm is flourishing, and Molly finds purpose and pleasure in her daily activities. So when Edwin casually mentions that Sir Gerald Kilburn has rented Newlands, a neighboring estate, and that he plans to summer there with friends – she’s angry. Mistrustful of men in general, armed with gossip from her sister Louisa – detailing the rakish exploits of Gerald and close friend Charles Russington – and concerned by their proximity to the women living at Prospect House, she’s predisposed to dislike the visitors before they ever meet. Despite Edwin’s assurances that the group – which includes Sir Gerald’s sister and her chaperone, and several older women – will pose no threat to the community, Molly assumes and prepares for the worst.
When they finally meet at a neighbors dinner party, Gerald and his guests surprise Molly. They’re kind, elegant, charming and friendly… and much to her dismay, the notorious rake, Charles Russington (known as “Russ” to his friends, or “Beau” for his stylish dress), is as attractive and charming as one might expect, and he sets her pulse racing whenever he’s near.
Russ agreed to accompany Gerald to the country to escape from the tedium of life in London. A second son with a fortune inherited from his godparents, Russ lives a life of leisure, but the relentless pursuit of women after his money, and a general disinterest in gambling, drinking or carousing with friends, has left him weary of the life he’s living. Hoping that a sojourn in the country with his closest friend will provide a fresh start, he’s pleasantly surprised to meet the lovely widow Molly Morgan. She’s warm and lively – until she realizes who he is, and abruptly gives him the cold shoulder. Though he attempts to regain her favor, it’s clear that for some reason, she doesn’t like him and his efforts to charm her only seem to increase her disdain. Russ can’t decide if she’s purposefully baiting him – or genuinely dislikes him. And if that’s the case, he can’t fathom why.
As The Ton’s Most Notorious Rake unfolds, Molly does everything she can to resist Russ, and is determined to dislike him, but fate has a different plan in store. Despite their best efforts to steer clear of each other, they often find themselves thrown together when they least expect it, and little by little, Molly warms to the charming, interesting and handsome Russ. It soon becomes clear he has little in common with the man she expected him to be – and her growing affection for him scares her. Molly struggles to overcome the past – and to welcome Russ’s affections, but their relationship (for most of the novel) is marked by missteps – kisses lead to arguments, and tender moments to fearful panic attacks. Molly tries to steer clear of Russ… but falls in love with him anyway.
From the moment he meets her, Russ likes Molly. Everything about her calls to him, but he senses a trauma in her past, and he’s wary of hurting her. He’s never had a committed relationship, and he worries that he won’t make any woman a good husband. But his actions belie his words. Oh reader. Russ is lovely. All the notoriety attributed to our rake takes place off-page – and frankly, once we meet him, it’s difficult to believe he’s the real deal in rake-dom. Sure, he’s handsome and wealthy, and he has his pick of the ladies of the ton, but nothing about him screams “rake”. He’s bewildered by his feelings as the story evolves, and our heroine, who should know better than to judge a book by its cover, is alternately cruel and kind. I loved his careful and protective care of Molly, and his patience in the face of her unnamed fears. It’s unfortunate, then, that the author saddles his character with the ridiculous conviction that he can’t and isn’t marriage material when everything about him fairly screams the opposite. He’s tired of his life of leisure and longs to settle down with someone who loves him for more than his money or good looks… but he pushes Molly away because he just knows he won’t be good at it. O.M.G. Ms. Mallory. Why can’t Russ simply be a great guy? Molly has enough baggage for them both.
Although the s….l…..o…..w…..l…..y developing relationship between Russ and Molly is the main focus of the novel, Prospect House and its inhabitants, Newland and its guests provide a nice diversion from their storyline. Two other love stories emerge out of the cast of secondary characters, and although I loved these pairings, I didn’t like the way Ms. Mallory used them to engineer a much too abrupt happily ever after between Russ and Molly. I also wasn’t fond of the last minute arrival of Russ’s half-sister Serena – or the fact that her arrival seemed to herald everyone’s awareness that Russ and Molly ‘were in love.’ Either everyone was circumspect before she arrived, or something about her triggered their matchmaking impulses… I’m not sure, but I thought she was an unnecessary (and silly) addition to the story.
Fans of slow burn love stories with more introspection than steam will find much to love in The Ton’s Most Notorious Rake. I can’t deny I wanted more time with this couple after they fell in love (and a bit more steam), but I enjoyed the story overall and I’ll be looking forward to Ms. Mallory’s next book.
Publisher and Release Date: Harlequin Historical, March 2018
Time and Setting: Regency England
Heat Level: 2
Genre: Historical Romance
She’s vowed to stay clear of men…
But can she resist the ton’s most notorious rake?
Alone in the dirt, her ankle in agony, the last person Molly Morgan wants to come to her rescue is the handsome yet infuriating Beau Russington. Molly does her utmost to avoid scandalous rakes like Russ, and his dangerous allure shakes up her quiet country life. But the sparks between them could be explosive if Molly only dares to surrender…