This is the first book in the Union of the Rakes series, and it starts off with a scene reminiscent of The Breakfast Club. Five schoolboys are in detention, though for what is not clearly defined. It’s really just a device to have the boys form a friendship, and provide a backstory to join them together for the series. This one focuses on Sebastian Holloway – his adult self is scholarly, bespectacled, unfashionably dressed, impoverished and socially awkward. He loves his research and spending time in the library where he doesn’t need to actually speak with anyone.
However, he has formed a friendship with Lady Grace Wyatt who is as bookish as he is. She’s happy with her life and her study of reptiles; spending time talking with Sebastian is just like being with a colleague. She does have a crush of sorts on another researcher, Mason, who doesn’t return her feelings. Then her father falls ill, and his greatest wish is for her to get married so he can spoil grandbabies before he shuffles off this mortal coil. Grace concocts a plan to make Mason notice her, and what better way to do that than have another man pursue her…sure, that always works!
Naturally the man she has in mind for this fake romance is Sebastian – far from the rakish type, he’s going to need help to look and act the part. This is where the story begins to feel like My Fair Lady. Sebastian’s friend, the Duke of Rotherby comes to the rescue and helps to outfit Sebastian properly and then give lessons on becoming a rake. I’m not sure how they would have accomplished this task without Rotherby, or his money. For two researchers, they weren’t very bright at observing how rakes behave. Their first foray was to study a book of manners Grace’s father used forty years earlier; hardly the best way to go about things. However, the three of them spend considerable time together polishing Sebastian into the proper rake that every woman swoons over. And of course the fake romance soon doesn’t feel like pretend anymore.
This book was very light on actual plot, and the characters weren’t all that memorable. Sebastian was likeable enough, but he pretty much just seemed to go along with whatever Grace wanted. As for Grace, there’s a lot of modern feelings projected into her. She likes to spout scientific terms and observations, but not there’s really no actual doing of anything scientific. For a young, unmarried woman she spends a lot of unchaperoned time with not one, but two, men. Her maid always has her nose in a book, or easily bribed to stay out of the room so it’s hard to believe that Grace’s reputation wouldn’t be in tatters. I have read some of Ms Leigh’s earlier books and enjoyed them, but this one really didn’t work for me.