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To Recapture a Rake is the novella that introduces Merrill's new series about the Hephaestus Club, which is, at once, like and unlike such clubs as White's and Boodles. The Hephaestus Club boasts of a very exclusive and strict membership requirement: members have all experienced a life-changing rejection.
In Vincent's case, his long-time mistress has broken off with him very suddenly and very publicly. In a fit of frustration, he becomes part of a wager among the members of the club where the last man standing, unmarried, will win the prize money.
The author establishes that Vincent Wilmont, the Earl of Blackthorne, is very conscious about living up to his name and reputation as Blackthorne. He is, clearly, a slave to society's dictates and goes out of his way to fulfill society's expectations of him, allowing them to shape his identity.
The ton might expect Lord Edenvale to be a bit too holy for his own good, and Lord Overset to be somewhat unsteady on his feet. But Blackthorne should stick in the side of society, living for pleasure and mocking the false morals of the majority.
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I love rebels. I love contrary characters who thumb their noses at society. They're interesting. They're exciting.
Vincent isn't a rebel -- he conforms to society's perception of him as a rake. It's a strange and contradictory and circuitous situation -- and, I think, this is the heart of Vincent's problem. He doesn't really have a clear sense of self and has, in his mind, compartmentalised the two aspects of him: Vincent Wilmont and the Earl of Blackthorne. He also projects his own insecurities to Caro, the love of his life.
... The part of him that had once been Vincent Wilmont recommended flowers and an apology. If needed, he should go down on his knees before her, begging to know how he had wronged her. Artifice and distain could be saved for the rest of the ton. Caro deserved nothing but truth.
But Blackthorne argued that this weak part of his character had caused the trouble in the first place. Better to take up another, even more beautiful woman, to show that he was unhurt.
His inner Vincent responded morosely that there was no woman more beautiful than Caro Sydney, and Blackthorne grudgingly agreed.
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In a strange (and confusing) twist: he defends Caro's honour in a duel and then, instead of saving her reputation by offering her marriage, he damages it further by asking her to be his mistress. They have a wonderful relationship and Vincent is content in their arrangement. When he finally realises just how much he loves Caroline and how important she is in his life, he tells her -- but Caro's reaction is unexpected. She casts him out and breaks off their arrangement.
Caro's characterisation and story is very clear: she's been ruined by circumstances that were not of her own doing, but she is now making the best of her situation. It's quite tragic for her to see how her fall from grace has affected her sister's prospects and how she has been limited by her actions. When her reputation was ruined and Vincent offered her his protection, she didn't have the courage to walk away from it. She's a year older and wiser now -- and, when she finds the situation not to her liking, she displays considerable guts to end things with Vincent. Caro wants to live life according to her terms, not Vincent's or anyone else's. She's finally taking control.
The way the story is presented is a bit confusing and I was, actually, unclear about the conflict until it was resolved at the end of the story. (From what I understand, Caro and Vincent both misunderstood the other's intention. Both wanted to protect their hearts from being broken ... when Vincent professed his love to Caro, Caro was suspicious of his intentions and rebuffed him. Vincent didn't want to give Caro another chance to hurt his feelings, so he asks her to be his mistress instead. Strangely, "ruined" Caro said "yes" to the same rake she said "no" to a day before --)
What I did like about this story is the structure: one year ago, Vincent and Caro were in a similar situation. They were at a crossroads in their relationship and hadn't known where to go with it. It resulted in a duel and the scandalous arrangement. It's a year later, and they are at another crossroad, with another duel looming in the horizon for Vincent. Will history repeat itself? Or will the characters prove that love is sweeter the
To Recapture a Rake is Book 0.5 of Christine Merrill's The Hephaestus Club series. To find out more about Christine Merrill and her books, click below: