5 out of 5 stars
This isn’t actually a perfect book — there are times when it drags, and other points where, as a reader, I really wanted to quibble with a particular detail or characteristic. But… overall, what a spectacular read! The relationship between our two main protagonists, Lady Alys and Reggie (the Despair of the Davenports) is believably flawed and complex. He’s a reprobate and reforming alcoholic who doesn’t want to admit that he misses having a family or home. He’s honorable… yet completely willing to act the part of the unreformed rake, if it will get him what he wants. Allie, meanwhile, is a woman with a past who’s legitimately made something of herself, despite youthful indiscretions and misjudgments. Their relationship is a mixture of budding respect, slow-boiling awareness, companionship, and eventually… love. The novel has a wonderful cast of side characters, and though there really were times when the pacing seemed to crawl, the high points are well-worth the wait.
Greater Detail (with some spoilers):
In many ways, this is not a lighthearted romance, even though the actual relationship between the two main characters (who are so set in their ways and such independent, strong-minded characters) is quite sweet.
For one thing, we have a real rake… one who has participated in 12-15 duels (he’s lost count) with roughly half of those resulting in the deaths of his opponent. Though it turns out that several of them perhaps “deserved” their fates, there was one (SPOILER) that he didn’t intend to kill, but was too drunk, missed, and accidentally killed.
Accidental killing of possibly-not-deserving side characters… not something I usually expect in my romances. Most of the time, when authors write about rakes, we get very vague suggestions of widows and paramours, here we get Reggie, drunk and having sex with his host’s paramour in the hallway, and later, Reggie, tempted by lusty, forward maids, Reggie, who’s a part owner of a house of prostitution. I mean, these are legitimately rake-worthy activities, that most authors would shy away from delineating, which is interesting!
Another potentially off-putting plot twist is that Reggie is… (another spoiler) definitely an alcoholic. There are various friends who try to intervene, and he goes through several bouts of denial, trying to quit, more denial, etc… before he finally conquers his addiction. It all resolves well (of course) but this definitely made it a less-than-lighthearted read at times.
Those couple of quibbles aside, what a lovely, engaging love story between two people who have both forsaken their birthrights/expected futures in various ways, and are struggling to build stability, a new life, and also, find love. The relationship between these two develops in a very organic, believable way, the side characters are all interesting (and every little tidbit of plot gets resolved, which is great).
It’s a great read… not a particularly fast one, but a truly worthwhile read for regency lovers who are willing to have some fairly serious plot twists (alcoholism) and legitimately flawed characters.