ONCE A RAKE continues on from the first trilogy of the Drake's Rakes
series, featuring heroines who went to a certain special academy together. The start of the second trilogy, this book is delightful and engaging, captivating the reader with a compelling plot and sympathetic characters.
Sarah is dismayed to find Ian Ferguson hiding in her land, Ian, who is being accused of treason for shooting the Duke of Wellington. But of course, Ian didn't do it...and now he has to search for the traitor while clearing his name. But wounded and weak, he needs Sarah's help, and the attraction between them is a complication he didn't need.
I have to say I have mixed feelings about starting this book. After the wringer that Barely a Lady and Never a Gentleman (read my review)
put me through (first two books in the first trilogy), I wasn't sure I wanted to be squeezed with conflicting feelings and disbelief and anger (on behalf of the heroines) again.
** spoiler **
If you must know, Jack (in Barely a Lady) seem to still have the hots for his French mistress, and in Never a Gentleman, Diccan had intimate relations with this same mistress all in the name of saving his country. While I can understand Diccan's predicament, but still, you'd think there was some way he could have solved the problem without actually doing the deed. Or maybe talk to Grace (the heroine) about it and hope for her understanding. However, one thing you can't deny, these situations certainly riled up a lot of (negative) reader emotions, proving the author's skill in getting readers to be invested in the characters.
** end of spoiler **
I was relieved to discover that there was none of that here! I had a moment of fear when the infamous Minette reappears, but ONCE A RAKE features a believable romance between Ian and Sarah, both sweet and earthshaking. The angst they went through, the conflicts they faced added depth to their character, making them sympathetic and relatable.
And so, I myself came to a crossroads of sorts, as a reader. Diccan's situation is not out of the bounds of credulity. In real life, spies and undercover agents do have to do things they normally wouldn't do for the sake of their mission, for the greater good. In trying to make the plot more realistic, the author took the risk and ran afoul of readers who prefer to keep their romances "clean", i.e. heroes should stay faithful to their heroines after they have met them. I was one of those readers, and yet, after having read both books, I think Never a Gentleman becomes an unforgettable book, while ONCE A RAKE, because it's safe and remains true to formula, will one day pass into obscurity from my mind, blurring together with other similar books.
So, what am I saying? Perhaps we read for escapism. We don't want our books to contain adultery that is so often found in real life and be reminded of it. We want to maintain our fantasy of a happy-ever-after for our hero and heroine, once they have met and developed feelings for one another.
And while most romance books do offer that, I think I've grown as a reader to appreciate books like Never A Gentleman, which is realistic and gritty, which is not cut and dried or formulaic, in which our hero and heroine face hard choices and triumph at the end of the day. While Grace may be hurt and heartbroken at seeing her husband and his mistress together, at the end of the day, she understood why he did so and was able to forgive him for it in the end. That, for me, depicts the test that life throws at her, the growth that she underwent and the triumph she achieved at the end. After all, she did get her happy-ever-after with Diccan, didn't she? Plus a bonus of growth in her character.
Still, ONCE A RAKE is a compelling read, the story flowing as it did from Eileen Dreyer's talented hands. If you haven't read the previous books in the series, it's okay to start with this one. Seriously, I'd forgotten what exactly was the situation with Minette and the plot to overthrow the government in the previous books that it seemed as though this is my first book in the entire series. The author was able to bring me up to speed in this book, although it may be that I hate Minette so much I just focused on the romantic development between Ian and Sarah.