Title: Rakes and Radishes
Author: Susanna Ives
Grade: B (for Barns. and Byronic)
How Hot is it?: three hot chili peppers
Henrietta Watson, a generally kind-hearted mathematical genius who is prone to fantasies influenced by gothic novels, goes to London with her childhood friend, Lord Kesseley. Kesseley, a down-to-earth, agriculture-minded peer, is in love with Henrietta, but she is in love with her cousin, a poet who is himself in pursuit of a society beauty. Once in London, in a social milieu saturated with prostitution, gambling, loveless marriages, hypocrisy, and adultery, things start to unravel and hearts break. Henrietta doesn't understand her feelings and leads Kesseley on to the point where he loses it and decides to shed his bumpkin image and become the mad, bad, and dangerous to know kind of rake that Gothic novels portray and women apparently like. Meanwhile Henrietta, due to her relationship with Kesseley's mother (around whom a thematically linked subplot revolves), becomes involved in a coterie of older, wordly women who enjoy her card-playing skills, and eventually finds herself in the midst of a scandal.
There's a lot to like about this book. Ives turns the lovable/reformed rake trope on its head and looks at the process of a nice guy turning into a rake and nearly losing everything he loves. I adore books about people who have a savant-like skill at math and science, and this heroine is a mathematical genius who works with her astronomer father (and assists in an important scientific discovery). I even kind of like the idea that in this romance you're watching a relationship unravel and nearly be destroyed, rather than building it, for most of the book--probably because the idea of redemption really appeals to me. The theme that we don't have to be caught in a cycle of dysfunction because of our families, and that even if we do we can break out of it, is well-illustrated here.
I did have some problems with this book. It was poorly copyedited ("shined", "Gretna Greene", etc.), which unfortunately seems to be legion in e-books. (I don't blame the author for things like that. Things like that are Why We Need Good Copyeditors, says this former editor, plaintively). There were some loose ends left dangling--at several points Kesseley does something that causes someone else real harm and the reader never does find out if he went and made it right (an important aspect of redemption). Also, Henrietta and Kesseley's reconciliation and declaration of love is very near the end of the book and I would have liked to see more of their renewed relationship. But overall I found this a satisfying read from a promising new author.
This books is currently only available as an e-book.