|[ Review Posted: Nov 04, 2010 ] - See all my reviews
|Once in a while, I read a book that's so emotive that I find myself thinking about it long after I have put it down and Rakes and Radishes, with its theme of love and forgiveness, is such a book. I am sure opinions about this book will vary greatly; some readers will love it and others will hate it. I am definitely one of those readers who love it. I found it refreshingly different probably because it doesn't conform to the usual norms of the Historical Romance genre.
Thomas, Earl of Kesseley, is more likely to be found digging in the fields of his beloved estate in Norfolk than dancing in the ballrooms of London. Although he has been in love with his neighbour, Henrietta Watson, for as long as he can remember, Henrietta does not share his feelings. She is in love with her cousin, Edward, an aspiring poet, and regards Kesseley as a very dear friend only.
Edward has gone to London in the hope of becoming famous and, every day, Henrietta waits for the mail coach, hoping for a letter from him but none arrives. One day, she is mortified to see a picture in the newspaper of Edward with the beautiful Lady Sara, daughter of the Duke of Houghton, with an article referring to a foiled attempt to run away to Gretna Green.
Hoping to put Henrietta out of his thoughts, Kesseley decides to go to London in search of a wife. However, Henrietta proposes to accompany him, perceiving it as an opportunity to try and win Edward back. She convinces Kesseley that he could be very handsome and dashing if only he adopted the correct dress and demeanour. He could then easily lure Lady Sara away from Edward.
However, Henrietta's hopes are shattered when Edward admits that he has never loved her. Forced to re-examine her feelings for Kesseley, Henrietta now realises that she loves him. Kesseley, however, now relishing his new rakish life of drinking and debauchery, will no longer be "a fumbling, cabbage-headed sap" for her. He has become cold and unapproachable.
Henrietta finally realises that her ill-conceived plans have had unforeseen consequences and she may have destroyed all chances of a future with Kesseley.
I absolutely adore books that engage my emotions and this is one of the reasons why I enjoyed 'Rakes and Radishes' so much. I was immediately drawn into the story and felt a real connection to the characters as a result of Ms Ives' excellent writing.
I must admit that my first impressions of Henrietta were not very complimentary – emotionally immature and callous. She has built up a fantasy of how she wants her life to be – marriage and the excitement of London away from her boring existence in Norfolk. Edward, her cousin, is the romantic figure she believes will fulfil that fantasy and, in her naivety, she imagines herself in love with him.
I just hated the way she callously used Kesseley at every opportunity without any regard for his feelings so much so that I couldn't imagine ever liking Henrietta. However, following Edward's admission that he has never loved her, I saw Henrietta begin to gain in maturity. Her realisation that she loves Kesseley may seem rather sudden but I think Henrietta has always been attracted to him but was so absorbed in her fantasies that she never stopped to analyse her feelings for him. I see her attraction to Kesseley revealed in the scene where, having arrived in London, Kesseley decides to take a bath and Henrietta can't help imagining:
‘The image of the naked Kesseley with water running down his wet sinewy arms flashed in her head.'
Hardly the imaginings of a friend!
The fact that I actually felt sympathy for Henrietta, when she declares her love and Kesseley treats her with such derision, owes much to Ms Ives' ability to make me care about the characters. Henrietta's subsequent actions reveal how much she has changed from the selfish person she once was. She saves Kesseley's' mother from a very difficult situation and her concern for Kesseley and the way he seems bent on destroying himself is sincere.
I love Kesseley because he is my favourite type of hero, a truly tormented one. This is not apparent when we first meet him dressed in his ‘muddy doeskins and worn green coat' , a gentleman farmer who is happy spending his time on his estate in Norfolk. However, we soon learn that his life has not always been so idyllic and that his father was abusive to both himself and his mother. During this time, Henrietta represented his hope and I can well understand why he fell in love with her: ‘You taught me to dream when I was afraid of the world.'
I think his love, although unrequited, keeps him from succumbing to his fears that he is destined to be just like his father. It is a sort of lifeline for him, but once he rejects Henrietta's love and fully embraces a life of excess and debauchery, he becomes what he has dreaded, a virtual carbon copy of his father. Ms Ives did a wonderful job of depicting a really unpleasant rakish Kesseley and one who is in real danger of destroying himself. In quite an original plot twist, it is words of wisdom from an unexpected person that makes Kesseley realise that he is not his father and is worthy of Henrietta's love:
‘You may be your father's son by birth, but how you live your life is your own choosing.'
I was so pleased to see that Eleanora, Kesseley's mother, find love at last. I really think she deserved some happiness after suffering years of such a terrible marriage. Then she has to watch her son apparently turning out to be just like his father and treating her with such contempt. This scene is particularly heart-rending to read.
I guessed that the mysterious painter/philosopher, Danny Elliott, whom Henrietta meets in the park, would come to play an important role in the story but when his true identity is revealed, it is a total surprise.
I must mention that incorrigible pair, Lady Winslow and Princess Wilhelmina, whose antics I found very amusing and Kesseley's one-armed, colour blind valet, Baggot, who also supplies some funny moments.
If you are looking for a Historical Romance with a difference, then I can definitely recommend ‘Rakes and Radishes'. This is Susanna Ives' debut novel and I look forward to reading more of her books.
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