Gareth, Lord of Rakes and Andrew, Lord of Despair by Grace Burrowes
Oh, to live in Grace Burrowes’ Regency England. This is a magical world where the aristocracy’s finest specimens of masculinity are, to a man, well over six feet tall, with all their hair and all their teeth. They are careful stewards of their wealth, which is considerable. Despite what the historical record might suggest, they bathe frequently, and instead of smelling of whiskey, the stables, or their own stinky sweat, they rather have about their persons the pleasing scent of bergamot or cedar. In the boudoir they are both talented and considerate; they like to cuddle almost as much as they like to swive. They not infrequently, although not always, have wildly anachronistic names (cf. Gayle — Gayle! — in Burrowes’ The Heir). They often have surprising talents and abilities, which may range from efficiently managing a brothel to performing an external cephalic version during the delivery of breech twins during a blizzard. They are affectionate. They are handsome. They are kind.
But they are tortured — oh, so horridly tortured! — with grief, crushing guilt, or some malign combination of the two. And the only one who can end their torment is the most unlikely woman in the world…
Look, I laugh because I love. Burrowes’ books are my crack; she’s one of a handful of writers on my auto-buy list, and after having gobbled up most of her backlist, I can honestly say that I’ve never regretted a purchase. Her books represent a warm escape from the rigors of everyday life, and it’s one I welcome, repetitive plots, anachronisms, and all.
But I can still laugh just a little, can’t I?
Which brings us, after an unconscionably long hiatus, to this week’s two books — the tales of two brothers who are haunted by a long-ago boating accident. One of them has dealt with his guilt by becoming a rake; the other has dealt with his guilt by retreating to the Continent and becoming a rake. Ladies and gentlemen (although, I suspect, mostly ladies), I give you two of the recent protagonists of Grace Burrowes’ Lonely Lords series: Gareth and Andrew.
At the beginning of his novel, the eponymous Gareth (Lord of Rakes) finds himself faced with a prim, pretty, and economically distressed spinster named Felicity Worthington who has come to him with a bold, nearly unthinkable proposition: Her cousin Callista, the proprietress of a popular, somewhat high-end House of Ill Repute, has gone to her eternal award, and has willed the brothel to Felicity, with the proviso that Felicity must learn everything — and I do mean everything — about running the place within ninety days. Furthermore, she can only gain this education at the hands of one of two men — her choice. One is a notoriously evil bounder and cad. The other is Gareth.
Hoping to save Felicity, a decent woman, from the undesired attentions of the aforementioned bounder/cad and also from penury, Gareth — to his credit, reluctantly — begins Felicity’s erotic education.* He also finds himself falling arse over teakettle in love, as well as increasingly uncomfortable with the thought of Felicity scuttling her own reputation, as well as that of her innocent younger sister, by taking the reins of a whorehouse. Also, mysteries remain, not the least of which is why Callista left the place to Felicity to begin with. And who is the mysterious Lord Holbrook, who has suddenly appeared in town and taken a remarkable interest in Felicity’s family? Could he have his own designs on the young proto-madam? Finally, there’s the matter of Gareth’s guilt over the events surrounding that horrible accident, which took his grandfather, father, older brother, and fiancée, leaving him with a title he didn’t want and a life full of regret. Can he forgive himself in time to save Felicity and her sister from unspeakable danger?
Gareth: Lord of Rakes is vintage Burrowes, full of pragmatic, feisty, forthright women and emotionally unavailable men whose heads are lodged firmly up their bergamot-scented asses. I devoured every word like a starveling at the Country Kitchen Buffet and, without even pausing to belch, promptly turned my attention to the sequel, Andrew: Lord of Despair.
Andrew’s story picks up several years after Gareth and Felicity wrestle their HEA to the ground (come on, that’s hardly a spoiler). Since his beloved older brother’s wedding, Andrew has spent his time whoring it up on the Continent, writing home only infrequently. Notably, in between wenches he has somehow found the time to pick up some mad obstetrical skillz, as guilt-addled young lords bent on drinking and screwing their way across Europe did back in the early nineteenth century. This will eventually be important to the plot.
Among those pining for his return is Felicity’s younger sister, the improbably-named Astrid. Andrew and Astrid have a bit of a history; before she made her come-out, she and Andrew had a spectacular make-out, although he considerately stopped short of Ruining Her For Marriage. Andrew has always loved her from afar, although he considers himself unworthy of her or any woman’s affections as a result of his actions during the aforementioned boating accident. For her part, Astrid loves him, too. However, she finally got tired of waiting for him to respond to her letters, so she married another man — Herbert, Viscount Amery — who conveniently dies just as Andrew is returning home. What’s not so convenient is that Herbert has left Astrid flat broke and pregnant.
Even worse, someone apparently has it in for Astrid — subtly poisoning her, pushing her down the stairs, etc. Suspicion immediately falls on the new Viscount, the cautious and reserved Douglas, who is also the legal guardian of Astrid’s as-yet-unborn child. To protect Astrid and the child from danger, Andrew offers marriage…but can he do what both of them want and offer his heart?
Andrew is a bit unusual among Burrowes’ works in that the couple gets married about midway through the book, and we get to see them weather a challenging few months of newlywed life. (Lady Louisa’s Christmas Knight — a much lighter read — is the only other one I can think of. Wait a minute — Nicholas: Lord of Secrets, too, I guess. And maybe Darius? I honestly don’t remember.) It also features the only instance I can recall (in Burrowes) of flat-out bad sex between the hero and heroine, when Astrid, angry with Andrew for being cold and withholding, refuses to allow him to, um, take her over the top. It’s actually pretty icky and uncomfortable.
Eventually they get things sorted out, figure out who’s trying to kill Astrid (and why), and live happily ever after, but by the time I finished the book I thought Andrew was kind of a tool and that Astrid had put up with a lot more than she should have. I liked Astrid well enough, although between this book and Gareth, she does (spoiler!) display a remarkable penchant for getting herself kidnapped and placed in mortal peril. That’s the price one pays, I guess, for walking among the Mortal Gods of Burrowes’ Regency.
By the by, the next book in the series is all about the mysterious Lord Holbrook, whose attentions to Felicity and Astrid gave Gareth such fits. I’m not sure I altogether buy this guy as a ladies’ man:
He looks like Siegfried, or maybe Roy, to me. Nevertheless, David: Lord of Honor is the next book up on my TBR pile.
*I know what you’re thinking here, and I assure you, this isn’t porn. Really! There’s an actual plot and everything!