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A Very Daring Duchess


Rakes’s Wager by Miranda Jarrett
(Harl. Hist. #740, $5.50, PG-13) ISBN 0-373-29340-2
One of my favorite things about being a reviewer is the opportunity it gives me to try books by authors I’ve never read before. Rake’s Wager is just such a book. In this case, I found that Miranda Jarrett’s writing is fast-paced and readable, but the story’s implausible plot and irritating characters make this a book I can’t recommend.

When Cassia Penny’s father — a country vicar — dies, Cassia learns that he owns a London gaming house. Now that Cassia and her sisters have no place to live, they make a surprising choice. They move to London to live in and run the gaming house.

Like Cassia, Richard Blackley also moves to London. His goal is different; he wants to furnish his home and find a “high-bred lady bride,” not necessarily in that order. Richard and Cassia meet when they both bid on a painting, The Fortune Teller. Richard wants it for his home while Cassia plans to use the painting in the gaming house. The two characters don’t get along; Richard’s candor offends Cassia, who becomes more upset when he outbids her for the painting.

Both Richard and Cassia are very theatrical. Cassia describes the auction to her sister: “He let me bid, Amariah, let me bid in my innocence before he finally squelched me flat as a gnat!” Richard is equally dramatic, with dialogue such as, “We’re too much alike, Miss Cassia. If we ever came together, it would be as hot as if we’d invented sin.” And, “Despite being your father’s daughter, you’re a wanton little pagan at heart, where it matters.” I’m all for creative expression, but the dialogue leans toward melodramatic at times. For Richard, a simple “I want you” won’t suffice.

Jarrett’s penchant for drama isn’t the only problem with the characters. Cassia and Richard don’t get to know each other very well until the last third of the book. Until then, they bring out unpleasant traits in the other. Cassia becomes prickly and oversensitive, while Richard is abrupt and patronizing. His repeated use of “lass” as an endearment is intended to be sweet but it just sounds condescending.

Then, there’s the plot. I can overlook a few implausibilities when I enjoy the characters and am caught up in their story. Rake’s Wager, however, is bogged down by numerous improbabilities. First, there’s the country vicar who owned a London gaming club. Well, perhaps it could happen, but it smacks of hypocrisy for him to use the proceeds “to the welfare of the orphans and widows, particularly those who had come to sorrow from gambling.” OK, so this vicar is going to support orphans and widows, who have been harmed by gambling, by offering a place for men to gamble. Wouldn’t that lead to more suffering widows and orphans?

Once you move on from this contradiction, there are additional oddities, such as the fact that three young virginal women would run a successful gaming club in London, and the wager referenced in the book’s title. When you consider all of these elements, they are simply too much to overlook.

If you want a story where the heroine has an unconventional occupation, you’ll find it in Rake’s Wager. But if you’re anything like me, I’ll wager that you won’t enjoy much else about the story.

--Alyssa Hurzeler

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