My review contains spoilers and they're mostly my thoughts as I went with the book...
Lisa Kleypas is one of those authors who have introduced me to the wonderful world of current day Historical Romances. It’s been quite a few years yet, for me, the appeal to her novels have never faltered. She’s one of those authors who always inspires me and made Historical Romance my favorite genre. I’ve always admired her, still do and have been eagerly waiting for this new book to be a reality. It must have been 5yrs since the last LK HR was published, ever since then.
After all the anticipation, did Cold-Hearted Rake, book 1 of The Ravenels, live up to my expectations? I have to be honest and say, “no”. Now don’t get me wrong, it was still a great book, LK’s writing as impeccable as ever. However the central characters, Devon and Kathleen won’t really make my list of LK’s favorite H and h. They were sometimes good together, yet oftimes tried my patience. They quarreled and bickered like two children, came together and the next moment, pushed each-other away. Needless to say, it left me frustrated. But on the bright side, the story did pick up and we got to meet a cast of amazing secondary characters whose books I can’t wait to read! I’d give this novel the benefit of doubt because it’s not uncommon for the first book of an entirely new series stumbles a bit before the series becoming a masterpiece.
For a change, Cold-Hearted Rake is set in the Victorian-era. Devon Ravenel wasn’t supposed to inherit an earldom... like ever! Though not rich and titled, he was still living the life of a dissolute rake, bend of tasting every vice on earth at least for once in his life. Probably more than once. He had already decided never to get married and extending the Ravenel name since he had no need of an heir. His younger brother Weston, whose interest veers more towards drinking than wenching, unsurprisingly had the same notion about life. Live life to the fullest, enjoy while you can. No responsibilities, no tension and worries, for you see, Ravenels are a rowdy bunch who had always had a penchant for self-destruction. They live wild; always drawn to the adrenaline rush and the danger, never bothering to think about the consequences. And they die young too, which has come to be known as the “Ravenel curse”. Devon and Weston aren’t any different. It’s how their father was, so were the Ravenels that came before them. Both brothers are sure they’d also die young, continuing the ‘legacy’ of their ancestors. Devon despised his father, their mother wasn’t any better. Let’s just say they grew up in quite a dysfunctional family and had no intention of a repeat performance in their own lives. But it seemed to me that Devon was more into this idea that Weston; maybe because Weston was much younger when their parents died, but Devon still had the bad memories. Theirs was a childhood largely without any parental affection at all.
Now it seems their cousin, the heir to the Trenear earldom, Theo, hadn’t far any better either, even though all he always had for Devon and Weston was scorn and resentment. He recently surrendered to the so-called curse by dying young, when he should have been busy making heirs with his new bride. It seemed the Ravenel temper, which rules Devon and Weston’s life, has gotten the better of Theo too. Now the earldom sits without an heir and Devon finds himself in a situation of his nightmare, finding himself as the new Earl and, oh the horrors!, he’s got to procreate too for an heir so that the earldom doesn’t pass out of Ravenel family! When He arrives at Eversby Priory, the official seat of Treaner, to take a stock of things with Weston, Devon also discovers that the whole earldom is mired in a sh!tload of debts. It’s worse than his worst nightmare! Devon can’t think straight and the half-soused Weston keeps telling him to sell the damned thing to pay the debt and be done with it. Would that things were that easy.
Just how easy things won’t be is proven when Theo’s widow, his bride for all of 3 days, Kathleen steps in at the most inappropriate moment and hears a bit of Devon and Weston’s derisive comments about the place and their hasty plan of selling the place. Aaaand here we go.......! In the next weeks we find Devon and Kathleen at each-other’s throat, trying to bite each-other’s heads off. Words are exchanged, none too kind, as if one couldn’t say one good thing about the other. And they couldn’t deny that they were also attracted to each-other. Oh, somewhere someone was laughing his a$$ off at the irony of it all! The more Devon found himself attracted to Kathleen, the ruder he’d become. For Kathleen, at first she tried her best not to give into this attraction. Not just lie down and surrender to Devon’s good-looks, if not charms. However, she was inexperienced and couldn’t deny the pull she felt towards him, something she never really felt for Theo even though they courted for months before getting married.
Kathleen wasn’t very fond of Weston either, solely because of his unearthly love for alcohol. He was just as good-looking as Devon, however the months of drinking was taking a toll on his looks and health, something even Devon noticed. He despaired for his only brother, but knew Weston won’t want to be babied about it. Kathleen and Devon were also quite at an impasse regarding the fate of Eversby Priory. Even though Kathleen knew she can do nothing if Devon decides to sell it, she was putting up a good fight against his plans, mainly because not only it was her only home but also Kathleen felt responsible for Theo’s sisters, the eldest Helen and the twins Cassandra and Pandora. She hadn’t known them for long, but these girls were her only family now. It was true that the girls also had nowhere to turn to but to be party to the new Earl’s whims. Kathleen felt that she had to do something to save their only home.
Kathleen’s own childhood hasn’t been a fairytale by any means, as we find out later. Her parents were self-centered, much like Devon’s and quite neglectful. They loved their horses and spend more time with them than their only daughter. Kathleen was sent away very young to another family to be raised with their children. These put a lot of stress on a her young mind, leaving her emotionally stunted. She feels the sadness, the pain, the misery but there’s no outlet. Kathleen can’t cry. So you can guess why she felt she needed to protect Theo’s sisters from the likes of Devon and Weston; wastrels with no moral code whatsoever.
However, things begin to change soon enough, as, after a particularly intense fight that leaves Kathleen hurt again, Devon decides he’s been enough of a jerk. An epiphany leads him to finally decide that he’s going to take up on this challenge if you will. Finally he’d become responsible for once in his life. He’s going to see if he can make things happen, improving the lives of those three orphaned girls and the tenants who now solely relied on him. Yet, somewhere inside, he knew it was because he couldn’t bear to think that Kathleen would be left destitute if Eversby Priory is sold.
As a part of that plan Devon is moved to take stock of the situation, again, but this time with intentions of improving Eversby Priory. He returns to London to make numerous arrangements. He and Weston had also made acquaintance of Theo’s sisters. Helen is beautiful, serene, loves working with orchids. But no one can deny the spark of intelligence behind her crystal blue eyes. The twins Cassandra and Pandora are a boisterous bunch, the true female versions of the Ravenels; Cassandra having the lighter looks of Helen and Theo, while Pandora having a much darker coloring. They don’t always look like twins and have different personalities as well. TBH, meeting the new characters were much like any other LK novels, like meeting long lost friends. As I was getting acquainted, I could see how much fun the sisters are going to be in their books. :D
At one point, Devon begins realizing that Weston needed a purpose in life too. Even though Eversby Priory is proving to be a PITA, Devon is excited about the prospects. It has inspired him to do something because he now has a big responsibility (the shrewish widow notwithstanding :p). Weston needed something like that and so, Devon rather forces him to return to Eversby Priory to talk to the tenants and get an idea of overall farming condition in the area. It included everything from the quality of the land, the crops and the animals, the farming ideologies as well as the tenants’ state of being. Weston is supremely unhappy, more so when he arrives half-soused and Kathleen almost rips him a new one about it. It started out like something he’s going to rue that he’s taken up on, but soon turns into something that changes Weston’s life for good. He suddenly discovers an urge to work as he met and talked to the farmers, making detailed notes to send Devon later. Weston is an architect so it doesn’t take him long to become obsessed with different notions on how to improve the overall condition. He was working harder, and with little-to-no alcohol, his physical stature also begins improving. Not only that, he forms a strong affectionate attachments with the women of Eversby Priory, the best being Kathleen, who becomes the sister he’d never had.
I have to admit that for the first 60%, the story was going rather slow... until the accident that brings Winterborne into the Ravenels’ lives. Rhys Winterborne is filthy rich, who owns a rather large and hugely popular chain store. He’s also from a lowborn Welsh family so he’d never been welcomed among the nobility. Rhys is arrogant and ruthless, without any charm to speak of. The train accident could’ve been fatal for both Devon and Rhys. They were on their way to Eversby Priory to spend Christmas on Devon’s invitation. Devon had already hatched a plan, another step to improve their financial situation, with Rhys; a match with Helen. Rhys would invest in Devon’s numerous plans while Helen would help him climb that elusive ladder where the peers would finally be forced to accept him. However the train accident made things both difficult and easy for Rhys and Devon. Rhys is badly injured and left temporarily blinded. This is how he meets Helen, whose soft voice and touch brought him the peace he’d been looking for all this life. Rhys begins craving her voice and touch so badly that he would feel fevered which had nothing to do with his injuries. I think those scenes with a blind Rhys and Helen were way hotter than any scene between Devon and Kathleen. But for our H and h, this incident makes Devon realize that his attraction to Kathleen may not be just lust after all. Would that he got it through his thick head and not botch things up for them later... again. *sigh*
As it was, the relationship between Devon and Kathleen was still shaky. This moment they can talk like two acquaintances, the next they’re saying something to irrevocably hurt one another on some dumb issue. Devon was more of a jerk on this because Kathleen was truly falling for him by then. She was already grateful for what he was doing for all of them. She could see Devon was more than interested in her, yet she couldn’t quite grasp his moods, his intentions beyond wanting sex. Devon was so unused to love and affection, he had a hard time adjusting the fact that his feelings for Kathleen was much, much deeper. As I was saying, he botches things up quite a bit when, after many push and pull, kisses and fondling, proposes to Kathleen; no, not to become his wife but his mistress. Well, not exactly a mistress but it was a proposition of unattached sex whenever he was around Eversby Priory. *eyeroll* So smooth, Devon, really!
I wish Kathleen would say ‘no’, which she did at first but there was no conviction in that no. At that point, Devon knew that she was still a virgin because of a horrid wedding night, after which she refused to sleep with Theo. The way Theo died, fallen from a horse, half-drunk and angry... it was an aftereffect of one of their arguments. Kathleen had confided to Devon that the whole argument was about her denying him his husbandly rights. She felt horribly guilty, though Devon tries his best to soothe away her guilt. But he also points out that if they’re having sex, no one would think anything since she’s already a widow. No one needs to know about the ‘truth’, right? Such a charmer! Oh Devon was quite shrewd in his tactics to get her into his bed, which at times I found quite not to my liking. Something about it felt a little too forceful. And when Kathleen finally gives into his seduction, think I’d probably read the most awkward sex scenes from LK, even more awkward “after”. TBH, I wasn’t at all impressed. :-s
Frankly, at that point, I was more into Helen and Rhys’s courtship than Devon and Kathleen since I lost interest in their “he-said-she-said” on every other page. I think LK has portrayed Devon true to the title, a bit too close to the mark for my liking. I didn’t exactly hate him, but I wasn’t that fond of him either. As for Kathleen, she was trying pretty hard to act as the guardian to 3 girls so much more to her own age that initially I had sympathies for her. However, she began grating on my nerves when Rhys and Helen’s courtship began. She wasn’t fond of the idea since the very beginning citing Helen to be too much of a lady in comparison to Rhys, who was too uncouth, too everything wrong for her. Her rash judgments and actions based on those was one of Kathleen’s weak points. Come to think of it she also judged both Devon and Weston (as I mentioned earlier) to be immoral rakes whom one should avoid at all cost. All based on rumors. We can also thank her deceased husband for putting negative ideas in her head. But Kathleen had to change her tune after knowing both brothers, especially Weston who kept proving every day that he has so much more in him than what meets the eye. Devon could be trying but hasn’t she already fallen for him, given into his seduction? So, the next irritating moment for me was when Kathleen does the following:
After they’ve had a chance of knowing each-other when Rhys got back his vision, intense attraction between him and Helen was quite palpable to anyone with a bit of sense. Devon noticed it too but Kathleen was adamant about not to. Helen has already emphasized that she’s interested in Rhys, though Kathleen tried her best to dissuade her. I mean seriously, what does she herself know about men that she could so confidently tell Helen that Rhys is no good for her? She was as innocent of men as Helen was before... um, you know, Devon. *eyeroll* After Helen and Rhys start courting something happens between them that leaves Helen distraught (I won’t tell you what— my review is already quite spoiler-y as it is :p). When Kathleen begins prying, Helen confides about “something”. Kathleen is mad at Rhys (to which I add, it was nothing to be mad about, just a misunderstanding from Helen’s part). She, again, tries to convince Helen that this match is not a good idea. She even takes it on to herself to visit Rhys to break of the bloody engagement. OMG! I honestly wanted slap the sh!t outta Kathleen. In this whole courtship business I always ended up feeling that Kathleen was assuming too much, thinking she knows the best, making it look like Helen was an idiot who didn’t know her own mind! Kathleen went too far in this, botching things up for both Helen and Rhys. She should’ve left it between them to resolve... Doubly unfortunate that Rhys interprets it as something horrible, and his old vulnerability rears head. He’s hurt and angry, thinking Helen never cared for him one whit, which is so not true! What a mess! :(
I was scared after this because I thought Kathleen may have burned any bridge between Rhys and Helen was ever there. However, the snippet of the next book gave me so much hope that I’m waiting with bated breath for May 2016. Helen is going to be the death of Rhys, in the most pleasurable way I’m sure of it. ;) Not only that, I thought I saw something between Weston and Pandora... maybe my overactive imagination running wild, since I’m already trying to pair people off, can’t help it! :p But if it comes true, I’d be doing a happy dance. Unfortunately, this also reminded me that the next books could be as far away as 2018, which is quite certainly a depressing thought. :/
Even though for the main characters, Devon and Kathleen, all I got is ‘eh’, I had a lot to appreciate in Cold-Hearted Rake. As I turned the pages, I kept thinking how beautiful LK’s writing is, how she tackled those convoluted sentences without a hitch and described an Arabian horse as if I was seeing it in my mind’s eyes. By the time the story ended, I was preparing for another epic journey, this time of the Ravenels. All in all, I’m just thankful that Lisa Kleypas is back to writing historical romances so I can breathe a little easy now.
4 stars and eagerly waiting for Marrying Winterborne!