Rakes and Roses by Josi S. Kilpack
Although this is a sweet inspirational romance, I’m not sure it’s suitable for the younger reader, as there are some fairly heavy themes in here too, including (past) spousal abuse and (on-page) recovery from addiction, to both gambling and alcohol, with withdrawal sickness thoroughly detailed. Please be aware of these possible triggers if you choose to read.
With an ugly marriage in her past, Lady Sabrina masquerades as Lord Damian, who offers a conditional salvation to young men of the Ton who’ve fallen too far. Harry is one such; he’s gambled and drunk his way to the depths of London’s underbelly and is now utterly desperate, in hiding from one of the capital’s more ruthless moneylenders. Lord Damian’s offer is a lifeline he dimly recognises he doesn’t deserve, but before he can take it up, he’s caught and beaten to within an inch of his life.
Rescued by Lady Sabrina, he’s nursed back to health in her household. There’s an age gap of five years between them (she is the elder) and he quickly finds himself looking up to her as a model citizen, the kind of person he wants to be. But not before going through the absolute misery of withdrawal from severe alcohol addiction, while trapped in bed with a broken leg.
There’s one thing that really struck me as strange about the premise of this story from the beginning, and that is; why would a formerly abused wife, now an independently wealthy widow in charge of her own finances and her destiny, direct her charitable efforts towards men? Men who have got into trouble that’s entirely their own fault, wasting every opportunity they’ve been given and generally behaving horribly? Why wouldn’t she want to help women, battered wives and children, orphans, the poor, war veterans, and any number of people who are infinitely more deserving of charity? It honestly made no logical sense to me. She left her maid’s mother in a workhouse when the woman was dying! I honestly hated Sabrina a little bit when I realised that. For the amount she used to pay off Harry’s debts, she could have helped dozens, maybe hundreds, to find a better life. Considering her background, her choice of who to help made absolutely no sense. Maybe if she’d had a brother sucked in and victimised I might have bought into it, but she was the illegitimate daughter of a nobleman. Helping former mistresses and other by-blows would have made much more sense.
Sabrina is automatically a sympathetic figure because we first meet her at a low point, but honestly, as the story went on I found myself liking her less and less. She was self-righteous and judgemental, not to mention extremely elitist in who she chose to aid. And Harry, after making a brief appearance as a sweet young man early on, then shows as a self-centred, spoiled pig. He at least manages to improve once he sobers up, but it’s basically because he’s been ‘scared straight’. He still spends plenty of time trying to figure out how to carry on exactly as he has been, careless of who might be affected. I just didn’t really like either of them, and with Sabrina’s illogical and misguided choices for her charitable endeavours, the whole book really didn’t hit any good notes for me. I can’t give it more than two stars.
Disclaimer: I received a review copy of this title via NetGalley.