As does Marguerite Gautier, tragic heroine of Alexandre Dumas’ novel “Lady of the Camellias”, Grace Nolan, heroine of Victoria Barbour’s novel 21st Century Rake [Flanker Press], has a condition. Not the same condition, but a troublesome condition, nonetheless.
I’ll get back to Grace’s condition.
But first …
“21st Century Rake” is the fourth book in Victoria Barbour’s Heart’s Ease series and — shame on me — somehow I missed it a couple of years ago.
Anyway, a whole slew of movie-makers are in Heart’s Ease for a pre-filming retreat. They hope to get in character for a period biopic about the quintessential English dandy Beau Brummel. Rock star Asher Corbin is cast as lead.
I’d heard of Beau Brummel and knew that in his time he represented what was voguish in men’s fashions and, b’ys, the style was not something that would complement my rotund contours.
I didn’t know much about the Regency Era during which Beau Brummel strutted his stuff, so I Wiki-ed information.
The Regency Period of British history was the time Little Georgie, Prince Regent, ruled England in the 1800s — give or take an era — because his Pappy, Georgie III went off his rocker.
No, I haven’t forgotten Grace’s condition but, trust me, it’s a doozy.
To some degree, famous English novelist, Jane Austin, is associated with the Regency Era. I suspect that — except for the “bodice ripping” bits — Victoria Barbour has set the scene in Heart’s Ease to resemble the social drama of a Jane Austin yarn.
But what do I know? I’ve never read a Jane Austin novel.
Oh, I’ve tried, but, b’ys, they’re way too boring.
“21st Century Rake” is not boring. The complications and conflicts associated with Grace’s condition keep the storyline moving gallop-trot and keep the reader on the edge of … well — considering there are moments with serious bodice ripping potential — keep the reader on the edge of the bed.
When Grace meets Asher Corbin she doesn’t know who he is other than a cast member of the Beau Brummel movie. Although she rebuffs his romantic advances — her condition, remember — she does see him as a desirable specimen of hunk: “It was as if his lithe body was built to fulfill every woman’s dream. At least every woman who dreamed of an agile, sensuous man who seemed able to turn you on with just a look and a grin.”
So, determined not to let her condition keep her confined at home, Grace eventually rigs up like Cinderella and attends the Regency Ball.
Yes, there are fairytale elements in this novel.
For instance: There’s a shack in the forest that evokes images of seven little fellows living in the woods …
… with a princess snoozing in their parlor, or wherever.
Wearied from traipsing around in the woods and worried about how best to deal with the ramifications if her condition should become known, Grace falls asleep in the shack.
Like a latter day Prince Charming — or possibly a 21st century rake — Asher finds Grace slumbering inside the cabin nestled in the wooded bower.
Sorry, is that last half a line a bit too romantically sappy?
See, “21st Century Rake” is — dare I say it? — a woman’s book. I suspect, so are the Jane Austin novels I’ve never read. The Regency Era produced an abundance of girly things I’m guessing — fancy gowns and the like.
I s’pose because I was smothered in Regency romance, something scary happened while I read. Some of you know I doodle and scribble in the margins when I read. Halfway through 21st Century Rake I realized I was doodling tiny hearts above the “I’s” in my scribble notes.
For frig sake!
The Lady of the Camellias’ condition is fatal. Grace’s condition is not.
There’s a scene, however, at the aforementioned shack, in which Asher vigorously — rakishly? — exhibits interest in Grace as a woman. The passion of the moment inflaming her, Grace realizes she hadn’t been “aware of the pain building in her lungs.”
Grace’s condition is central to the plot. At one point, Grace wryly admits there is an “ick factor” associated with her condition. Considering she’s 27, Grace wishes her condition was not such an encumbrance.
Marguerite Gautier’s condition in “Lady of the Camellias” is consumption.
Bet your virtue, Grace Nolan’s condition in “21st Century Rake” is not consumption.
Thank you for reading.
Harold Walters lives in Dunville, Newfoundland, doing his damnedest to live Happily Ever After. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org