The Rake’s Daughter by Anne Gracie
July 26, 2022, by Berkley
Review by Kate H.
The Rake’s Daughter by Anne Gracie is a Regency-era romance that uses an unusual scenario to give us that riveting tension between love and societal expectations. The story begins with Clarissa and Isobel (Izzy) – sisters by a different mother, daughters of an ill-tempered, degenerate rake. Improbably, and through sheer force of will, they manage to grow up together on their father’s country estate, hiding Izzy from his eyes and his ire when he infrequently visits. When he dies, he leaves his “legitimate” daughter, Clarissa, under the guardianship of the Earl of Salcott, who is no longer the man he knew, but the man’s son of the exact same name, Leo.
Leo has spent a great deal of his young life missing out on the usual young man things, instead caring for ailing father and the family estate. The guardianship is thrust upon him and like every other burden in his life, he feels deeply responsible for shepherding Clarissa’s coming out in London society and getting her married so that she gets the inheritance her nasty father left her. But Clarissa comes with her sister, Izzy, who is a social liability.
What Leo does not count on is both the devotion and inseparability of the two sisters, and his attraction to Izzy, the bastard daughter, who categorically should be undesirable and out of sight. He wants Clarissa to debut by herself because the ton cannot abide by a bastard. It is just not done. Of course, the sisters have other ideas. And Izzy is so attractive, smart, and full of life. She really shorts circuits his brain and it is enjoyable to watch.
Leo’s fidelity to the rules of society makes him a flawed character. I feel like in many historical romances I’ve read lately, it’s become a requirement that the hero and heroines can see beyond the conventions and morals of their times. But Leo spends most of the novel firmly in his time period, and I admit that makes him frequently difficult to like. In fact, at one point I felt he had dug himself such a significantly large hole with Izzy that he would never be able to fill it. Conversely, the ease with which Clarissa and Izzy subverted society’s expectations seemed a little glib.
I swallowed this novel whole. There are some wonderfully steamy garden scenes, and some fascinating secondary characters, like Leo’s aunt. I’m not sure I yet believe that Leo filled the hole he dug by the end, but he certainly made a start.
CW: allusions to sexual assault