Isabella's Rake by June Calvin
Signet, $5.50, PG, ISBN 0-451-19255-9
****
Good Regency romances depend on an author's ability to create likable characters who both fit and yet in some way challenge the conventions of the society in which they live. By giving us Isabella Eardley and Harrison Curzon, June Calvin has met the first challenge in writing a good Regency. She has also provided a lively plot, a good secondary romance, an interesting cast of characters and a brief look into the art world of the day.

Isabella is not your typical seventeen (almost eighteen) year old miss. While her diminutive stature may suggest a child-like nature, in fact she is a strong-minded, independent young woman who is dedicated to improving her artistic talents. Her grandmother, the Dowager Duchess of Carminster and her domineering father both want her to take her place in society and marry well. Isabella wants to become England's first great female landscape painter.

In her determination to find an instructor who can help her hone her talents, she meets Harrison Curzon, known to polite society as "the Golden Rake" for his blond good looks and his disreputable reputation. Like Isabella, Harry is a highly talented artist. He too has found pursuing his art difficult. While Isabella has been thwarted because of her gender, Harry's father insists that painting is not a respectable undertaking for a man of his social position. Harry has been given the choice of entering politics or turning his energy to administering his family's extensive properties.

That Harry and Isabella are perfect soulmates becomes obvious, but there are numerous barriers to overcome. There is Harry's reputation. There is Isabella's fear that any marriage will deflect her from her art. There is her boorish father's determination that she marry the Duke of Winkham, who shares his fascination with pig farming and the father's willingness to use the worst kind of emotional blackmail to force her to bend to his will. There is Harry's father's belief that Isabella will not be a suitable wife for a budding politician.

Calvin weaves all of her characters and situations into a seamless whole. Isabella is a wonderful heroine. I usually don't like very young heroines who fly in the face of convention. Their behavior doesn't ring true. But Isabella's sometimes outrageous actions seem to fit her character so well. Harry is a hero who is worthy of such a mate. Their love scenes underscore their passionate natures - passionate about life, about art and about each other.

Isabella's Rake is a fine example of the contemporary Regency romance and readers who like their Regencies with an interesting twist and a fair measure of sensuality will find this a delightful book.

--Jean Mason


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