Friday, April 11, 2014

Review: Once a Rake by Eileen Dreyer

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Ian Ferguson is on the run after being accused of attempting to assassinate the Duke of Wellington. He's injured and is far from London and his friends.

Lady Sarah Clarke is the sole caretaker of her husband's estate, and of her mother-in-law and her young sister-in-law. Funds are scarce and Sarah cannot afford to make a mistake as her husband's heir circles about them like a buzzard waiting for the kill. When a wanted man appears at her door, Sarah's first instinct is to protect herself and her family, but when she realises that he is the older brother of her dearest friends from Last Chance Academy, she knows she must help him at all costs.

The heroine, Sarah Clarke, is admirable in her devotion to her husband's family. She's had to bear the responsibility of being the head of their household because her mother-in-law is too flighty and her sister-in-law is too young. It isn't the happiest situation, but, for Sarah, it's the happiest she's been. She was born a bastard and has longed for acceptance, recognition and love from a family. When she married, Boswell, she knew it wasn't a love match, but she was content because her marriage came with the life she has always dreamed of. Here, in this tiny corner of Fairbourne, in this rundown farm with her pig and chickens, she belongs. But her life also teeters at a balance. If her husband does not return from the war, he would be declared dead and their cousin, Martin Clarke would inherit the farm. She and her in-laws would be turned out from the farm and have no place to go. It's been four months since the war ended, and, with each day that passes, the chances of her husband returning home becomes slimmer and slimmer.

When she finds Ian, she is torn between her loyalty to her family and loyalty to her dearest school friends. She knows who Ian is and had, as a young girl at the academy, listened to his letters being read by his sisters and imagined his adventures in distant lands. In fact, Sarah was secretly infatuated with the idea of Ian. And, now, the man himself is the stuff of her daydreams ... and more.

Ian's character isn't as clearly defined in this story. The title implies that Ian is a rake, but he doesn't really exhibit rakish tendencies. Dreyer also puts a lot of emphasis on Ian's size, often referring to him as being very tall and with having very broad shoulders and with being broad and big all over.

His hips were so wide, she could barely straddle him, but she managed ...
- pp. 285-286

I am amazed by his physical prowess, considering how long he has survived wounded -- with an infected wound, at that! I think what overshadowed his character development and the romance between Sarah and Ian is Ian's own backstory and his relationship with his sisters (Fiona and Mairead). Despite his reconciliation with his sisters, there's a lot of things left unspoken and unresolved between them -- and it's what takes center stage in this story. (This and Ian's strained relationship with their grandfather.) Ian's conversations with Sarah are almost always about his sisters (or about the sinister plot he is involved in), and there's actually more emotional pull in the scenes with Alex and Ian's grandfather. I didn't really see a way for Sarah and Ian's relationship to flourish with so many other things happening around them. The relationship seemed one-sided for the most part of the story: it is clear that Sarah was infatuated with Ian from the beginning, whereas Ian seems to just depend on Sarah. I did like how he tried to protect Sarah at the risk of his own life and he was willing to go away, even though he hadn't fully recovered to save Sarah.

My second problem is the intrigue itself. The initial premise is clear: Did Ian try to assassinate the Duke of Wellington? Dreyer's recounting of the events in the Prologue is a bit vague and confusing and I wonder if that was deliberately done.

Later, no one would be able to agree as to exactly what happened on the HMS Reliance that night. The witnesses were too many and the action too sudden to gain a coherent story.
- p. 1

What is clear is that Ian has a flask and the villains want it back at all cost, including calling in one of their most ruthless assassins, Madame Ferrar, a recurring character. While her reappearance is meant to tie Ian's story to the rest of the series, I could not help but feel that she was acting with her own agenda and her scenes, while gory and compelling, did not seem as a cohesive part of Once a Rake.

I had expected this story to be about how Ian would clear his name and it all seemed link to the flask -- but, even the role of the flask isn't that clear. It contains an image? It implicates someone they already know to be involved? The best part of the intrigue is how Ian manages to send messages to his compatriots -- and then the plot goes downhill from there. The resolution is just as vague and confusing as the beginning: it was a house party at the Duke of Ripton's house and the tone of atmosphere at the party is a strange mix of light and sinister -- it seemed to house the dangerous criminals who were after Ian. Another of Sarah's school friends, Lizzie, is the sister of the Duke and she has a room in the house. Another friend, Pippin, the younger sister of Alex Knight (one of Drake's agents) is also at the house party and those scenes felt very much like what a house party should be, but they abruptly jump to scenes of lurking around hallways and danger being present everywhere. Where were the footmen? The maids? The other guests?

Reaching another hallway, obviously the guest wing, Pippin tiptoed to the third door on the right and scratched on the door. There was no answer. Taking another look over her shoulder, she turned the knob and pushed the door open. Sarah wasn't surprised to see that she was grinning. Pippin adored high adventure.

"Huh," Pippin breathed, striding across the room to where a canopied bed rose before them. Empty. "Why, that sly dog. I wonder whose bedroom he is in?"

'There was a light in the library," Sarah suggested, staring at the tidy line of the untouched bed linen.

"We don't have time," Pippin said. "We'll have to breach the defences of Chuffy's sanctuary." She flashed another grin Sarah could barely see in the dark. "Gird your loins, Lady Clarke. We are about to do something quite scandalous."

Sarah scowled. "Pip, I have been kidnapped by a man wanted for treason, hidden with him in a barn, and climbed a wall in a dress. I think I left scandalous back at Fairbourne."

Only Pip would giggle.
- p. 319

* * *

Well, Ian thought, testing the ropes that held him to the chair, at least he'd been smart enough to hide the flask back in the tunnel. If only he knew where Sarah was. If only he knew she was safe.


"I don't think you appreciate your situation, Colonel Ferguson," the silky voice insisted beside him. "We can do anything we want to you, and no one will care. When your body washes up on the beach in a few days, they will shake their heads and think how a traitor had met his just fate."

Ian laughed, even though it hurt. Hell, by this time, everything hurt. He could no longer see out of his right eye, his nose was broken again, and at least one tooth was loose. He didn't even want to think about his ribs.
- p. 329

Another plot twist that took my attention away from the resolution was the relationship between Lizzie, Sarah and the Duke of Ripton -- though the author hints about this early on, when she finally reveals the details, it took away the momentum from the Ian/traitors conflict. Was Ian able to prove that he didn't try to kill the Duke of Wellington? Yes -- but it seemed like a secondary thing ... something incidental that just happened as they confronted Madame Ferrars and her cohorts.

I'm a big fan of Dreyer's Drake's Rakes (Three Graces) series and I was very excited to read about Ian Ferguson after encountering him in the previous books. I was also very excited to read about the ladies from Last Chance Academy after reading the e-novella, It Begins with a Kiss. Sadly, Once a Rake was a bit of a disappointment for me: it isn't the best romance I've read from Dreyer and not the best intrigue either -- I will still continue to follow this series, despite the slow start -- there's a lot of electricity in the scenes between Alex and Fiona and Pippin is such a fun character as well. ^_^

To find out more about Eileen Dreyer and her books, click below:


  1. Hmmm.....I really haven't read anything by this author yet.
    This book doesn't seem to be one I might get.
    I might get the Drakes Rakes books and take it from there.
    Thank you for your honest review Tin, have a great day.

  2. Hi, Dalila!

    I would recommend Never a Gentleman, which is book 2 in the series. ^_^



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