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Taken by the Wicked Rake (MB Continuities) Paperback – 7 Jan 2011
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About the Author
Christine Merrill wanted to be a writer for as long as she can remember. During a stint as a stay-at-home-mother, she decided it was time to “write that book.” She could set her own hours and would never have to wear pantyhose to work! It was a slow start but she slogged onward and seven years later, she got the thrill of seeing her first book hit the bookstores. Christine lives in Wisconsin with her family. Visit her website at: www.christine-merrill.com
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This was a perfect ending to a great series and this may be the best book of all, because all of the loose ends were being tied up it was action from start to finish. Verity emerged as a strong and sympathetic character, finally breaking free from coming across as overlooked and rather insipid. Stephano was well portrayed as man whose life has been blighted by the murder of his father and curse passed on to him by his mother, his relentless search for justice causing him as much pain as he visited on those he believed to be guilty for the sins of their father. I did wonder how Christine Merrill was going to manage to make him a sympathetic character but all credit to her for revealing a basically good and conflicted man. In the end the true villain is revealed, justice is done and the couples we have come to know across this wonderful series live happily ever after - who can ask for more?
It is very much a curate's egg with some very good parts but also some terrible ones. The problems with the book are not the author's making so much as due to the extreme challenges placed on her through both the setting of the series and a comulative collection of implausible loose ends from all the preceding books. In particular, the author has to turn someone who treated the heroines of all the first seven books with unpleasant and totally unjustified cruelty into a hero, and then have the girl he kidnaps fall in love with him without making her into some kind of Stockholm syndrome case!
(By the way I've not given away a "spoiler" there, because the identity of the central character and the plot detail that he kidnaps the heroine who then falls for him is already disclosed on the back cover of the book.)
If you're going to read the series I would recommend leaving this book until last. The central character of this book, who goes by a variety of names including Stephen Hebden and Stephano Beshaly, appeared to be the villain in the previous seven volumes, but the primary villain who is finally unmasked in this book was responsible for much, though not all, of the evil for which Stephen Hebden was blamed. There is also a question running through all eight books: was the right man hanged 21 years before? If not, who was the murderer and was he also an enemy spy? You will get more from the earlier books in the series on first reading if you leave reading this one, and thus finding out the answer to those questions, until you have tackled the previous stories.
Stephen Hebden is the illegitimate son of a man who was murdered twenty one years before this book. That scandal from an earlier generation hangs over all the characters of this series.
Once apon a time three young men of noble birth had been friends and colleagues, working together for a government department. But then one of them had been murdered, and a second accused of the crime - and not just hanged for it, but attainted as a traitor, so that his lands, title and property were forfeit and his wife and three young children lost everything.
Twenty years later the scandal resurfaced, dragging in the surviving member of the original trio and the children of all three of them. But it was not immediately obvious who is who or what they are up to ...
The murder victim, Lord Framlingham, had raised in his own home his natural son by a gypsy mistress. Framlingham loved to shock society, and everyone assumed that his action in expecting his wife to help care for the boy was a mortal insult to her. Whether or not that was his intention, we learned in an earlier book that Amanda Hebden, Lady Framlingham, loved children. The infant Stephen Hebden captured her heart at first glance, and she raised the child with as much love as she could possibly have given if he had been her own son. Three years later Amanda did have a daughter of her own, Imogen, heroine of "The Viscount and the Virgin" who as a small child idolised her elder brother.
But when Stephen was seven and Imogen four, their father was murdered and their family broken up. Amanda was very ill after the murder, and without her knowledge or consent her father put young Stephen in a hostel for orphans and foundlings. Shortly thereafter it burned down, and everyone inside was thought to have died in the fire: Amanda and Imogen Hebden were told that Stephen had been killed.
In fact he had survived, but went through great privations before chance brought him to his mother's Romany tribe, who took him in and raised him. Never knowing that his stepmother had, when she recovered, spent the rest of her life trying unsuccessfully to find him, he assumed that she and all his Hebden relatives had rejected him, and renounced them in turn, adopting the Romany name form, Stephano, of his given name and his mother's family name Beshaly.
Stephen/Stephano did learn that his mother, Lord Famlingham's romany lover, had committed suicide at the execution of the man convicted of his father's murder after cursing the families of the three men involved in the scandal - the Hebdens, Wardales, and Carlows. So he made it his life's work to implement his mother's dying curse.
During the first seven books of the series he played cruel tricks on the children of all three men in revenge for a murder which took place when they were all children and from which most of them had suffered greatly just as he had. The people who he treated badly in these books included both his own half-sisters, particularly Isobel Hebden but also his Romany half sister Nadya, in spite of the fact that neither of them had ever shown him anything but love. So when she came to write this book, Christine Merrill had an almost impossible challenge to credibly turn him into a sympathetic character. Especially as at the start of this volume, his campaign of misdirected vengeance is still not over. I have been able to give this book as many as three stars, when in less skilled hands it could easily have been a one star disaster, because Ms Merrill does about as well in this challenging task as any author could.
Lady Verity Carlow, who is regarded by Regency high society or the "Ton" as a Diamond of the first water, is the youngest child of the Earl of Narborough. The apple of her father and brothers' eyes, she has never committed the smallest mis-step in society. Verity would probably have been married long since had her family not frequently sent her away from society for her protection. They were afraid that she might become the victim of the sort of plots which had nearly ruined her elder sister, her former governess, and her new sisters-in-law in four of the first seven books. But unfortunately, wishing to spare her distress, the Carlows have never properly explained to Verity the reason for their fears.
At the start of this book Lady Verity is attending a ball, sponsored by her godfather Lord Keddington. And suddenly her world comes crashing down around her ...
Certain elements of the plot of this story are seriously implausible, though in many places the author stitches loose ends together with considerable skill, and what could easily have been a terrible book is at least passable. It doesn't have the wealth of period detail about the world of the haut ton which the best regency writers such as Georgette Heyer or Marion Chesney (also known as M.C. Beaton) build into their books but neither is it full of anachronisms as the worst regency stories all too often are. For me the main reason for reading it was to see how the series concluded, and the main strength of the book is that Christine Merrill did a remarkably good job of pulling all the threads together given that the previous books and the setting made this quite a difficult challenge.
If you appreciate light regency romances with a touch of the cloak and dagger about them, you will probably enjoy the "Regency Silk and Scandal" series, and if so you need to read this conclusion. The full series consists of:
1) "The Lord and the Wayward Lady (Regency Silk & Scandals)" by Louise Allen
2) "Paying the Virgin's Price (Mills & Boon Regency Silk & Scandals)" by Christine Merrill
3) "Mills & Boon : The Smuggler And The Society Bride" by Julia Justiss
4) "Claiming the Forbidden Bride (Mills & Boon - Regency Silk & Scandals) (MB Continuities)" by Gayle Wilson
5) "The Viscount and the Virgin (Regency Silk & Scandals) (MB Continuities)" by Annie Burrows
6) "Unlacing the Innocent Miss (Mills & Boon Regency Silk & Scandals) (MB Continuities)" by Margaret McPhee
7) "The Officer and the Proper Lady (Regency Silk & Scandal) (MB Continuities)" by Louise Allen
8) This book, "Taken by the Wicked Rake" by Christine Merrill.