Shannon (Giraffe Days)'s Reviews > The Rake's Inherited Courtesan

The Rake's Inherited Courtesan by Ann Lethbridge
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's review
Apr 04, 2009

really liked it
bookshelves: 2009, historical-romance, mystery-suspense, autographed, review-copy
Read in April, 2009

Sylvia is an orphan, rescued twelve years ago from a bordello in France where her mother, a fallen woman and a prostitute, lay dying. Her rescuer was old John Evernden, who had never stopped loving her mother. For twelve years he stayed at his home in the country, away from prying eyes, but that didn't stop everyone's tongue from wagging in shock about his disreputable lifestyle with his courtesan.

Upon John's death, members of his family turn up to hear the reading of the will. Handsome Christopher Evernden, John's nephew and the younger brother of a baron, is mortified to hear that his uncle has passed Sylvia on to him. Sylvia is also shocked: she had hoped to go her own way in the world and become a respectable dressmaker. She certainly has no intention of ever becoming a man's plaything: memories of being groped as a child has left her terrified of men and their desires. Of course, honourable (and somewhat stuffy) Christopher sees a manipulative courtesan when he looks at her, and so she plays the part to get away from him.

Her plan backfires in more ways than one: Christopher is driven to distraction by desire for her despite his contempt and disgust; the friend whom she was going into dressmaking with has disappeared; she's forced to accept Christopher's help in getting to London, and on the way is nearly abducted by an unknown assailant; and everyone she meets assumes the worst of her, especially the men who look at her with a speculative eye.

Lethbridge, a native of England now living in Canada, has a love for Austen and Heyer which shows clearly, as does her love for the period and its people. A tight mix of mystery, intrigue, dastardly plots and exciting romance, the story is richly and authentically detailed and the characters lots of fun to spend time with. It's clear Lethbridge knows the period and the culture as well as Heyer did, writing from another time, and is deftly able to weave details in without overpowering the story. There's none of that self-conscious awkwardness you sometimes find with historical romance authors who aren't comfortable with the period.

It's not as rosy, light-hearted as most other historical romances, and at times it was suffocating to feel for Sylvia, who just couldn't escape people's worst judgements and labels. She has strength and is able to stand up for herself, but I cringed every time she let Christopher or his brother Garth think the worst of her - because I cared.

The mystery was suspenseful, beginning as a side-plot that gradually looms larger, ultimately revolving around Sylvia's parenthood. Of that I'll give nothing away. The romance side of the story blossomed in a natural, unforced way, and the chemistry was palpable. Probably my only real complaint is the title: Christopher was no rake, so why call it the rake's inherited courtesan? What was wrong with simply "The Inherited Courtesan"? Garth was a rake, but Christopher, while no virgin, was far too sensible and level-headed to get into wild ways. It was a bit misleading. The only other thing was at times, especially in the first third-ish, I felt a bit distanced from the story and characters, which seemed to move a tad too slowly. It's a small thing though.
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