Ardent and scandalous Seraphina Arden sets the hearts of good English men and women afire with her rakish lifestyle and even more salacious memoirs. They’re a best seller, and for a woman living on her own funding not only her libertine lifestyle but also her feminist causes, money is much needed. Which is why Seraphina returns to the storm-swept coasts of her youth to put her in the mindset to pen the long awaited sequel to her first set of memoirs.
There, she meets Adam Anderson. The kindly widowed Scottish architect with two adorable children and an utterly spotless reputation. He’s the good boy to her bad girl, so naturally she must have him. But Adam is unwilling and unable to give in to the passion offered by her, even though every fiber of his being sings to him to submit.
This isn’t your typical rakish rogue romance.
Set in 1797, the Rakess flips historical romance on its ear. It features an alpha heroine. A hard drinking, hard romancing, alpha heroine. The kind that if she were written as a man no one would blink an eyelid at. Seriously, every single one of Seraphina’s mannerisms wouldn’t be out of place on a stereotypical alpha hero/rake/rogue. And that’s part of the charm and the whole bloody point. Seraphina reminds me in many ways of George Sand, who also was a hard drinking, hard romancing, alpha woman. She’s got shades of Mary Wollenscraft as well. She’s very rooted in her age and her characterization is part of the joy. And like all good rakes, she’s got a dark and troubled past that needs the love of a good person to soothe.
Enter Adam… He’s what we would call a beta hero. He is not dominant, but he isn’t a doormat either. He’s got his own goals and to reach them he’s going to have to decide truly what matters to him. He’s the kind of being a hero who has to worry about his reputation. He’s got two small children a career which requires him to have the goodwill of those in charge. It’s dangerous for him to have a relationship with the Rakess, Seraphina Arden. Adam, our hero, slips into the role that women typically Inhabit in romance.
I’m not going to lie, it does take some getting used to. And let me tell you, my reaction exposed some deep seated internalized sexism and misogyny that I hadn’t realized I was carrying. I suspect that for some this discomfort would lessen their enjoyment of the story. For me, the realization heightened my pleasure.
I mean, let’s take a long hard look at that cover.
Look at it. Look at it hard.
I’ve placed it between two old school covers (please excuse the Fabio) to help illustrate my point.
It’s a call back to the clinch covers that were rampant in the 80s and 90s and still pop up today (although they have been replaced sadly by illustrated covers and headless torsos). There’s the strong grab by the Alpha Character. The one handed “I can do other stuff while I ravage you!” The intense look of “I want to sex you up and you’re going to let me.” All of that is in the WOMAN’S pose of The Rakess when historically it’s been the MAN’S position in Heterosexual romance. Then there’s the Beta character. We’ve got the closed eyes. The thrown back head. The slight grab that isn’t so much dominant but “I must hold on to something lest I faint from sheer pleasure.” Again, the roles are switched on the cover. The man is the one succumbing to the pleasure promised whereas historically that role has been the woman’s. The man is the “passive one” while the woman is the “active one” and that is a huge switch. I mean, even the font is a dead on match for some of the “old school” clinch covers. As is the stormy background. And frankly I love it. The publisher, the author, and the cover designer deserve a fuck ton of kudos for this. And there’s a lot more going on here than in the majority of Illustrated covers recently.
But that’s just my opinion. LOL
Going deeper, there is a lot of historical accuracy in play in this book. From ways of preventing STDs (the heroine has a condom that she makes people use), to the reality that sugar was a direct result of slave labor (much like how chocolate is today). The fights that the sirens go through and the troubles that they experience are all very real. The fact that there is a double standard that they face is very real. They are women who are fighting against millennia of built up systems put in place to keep them docile and obedient. And if they stepped out of that place, they were often stamped down or hammered back into place by any means necessary.
So this is me telling you that there’s going to be some social commentary in this book. And there are some triggers that people should be aware of: Prior Sexual Abuse, Death in Childbirth, Prior Child Abandonment, Period Appropriate Sexism, Period appropriate misogyny, period appropriate racism.
So, I Liked this book. I liked it a lot. It’s a fun read. There’s a good plot. I believed the romance. The characters were well written. I like that it challenged my preconceived notions and that it made me somewhat uncomfortable when I realized that I’ve still got my own internalized misogyny that I have to deal with. And like I mentioned before, that may be why so many other reviewers had trouble with this book. This is a book that forces you to take a very hard look at what you expect in romance and understand that there’s still a lot of internalized sexism and misogyny prevalent throughout the genre. Just like the cover, there’s a lot deeper going on here.
It’s a good book.
And it’s a romance I’m happy to recommend. It’s a romance that’s going to stick with me. And it’s a romance that I’m going to want to read again. And for that I give this… Five stars
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