Like so many others, Lisa Kleypas was my "gateway drug" into the historical romance genre. I loved her Gamblers series, and then her Wallflowers series. Then she took a hiatus from historical romance, working on her contemporary series, Friday Harbor and the Travises. When she started writing historical romance again, I was so excited. But then the reviews for the first book in her new Ravenels series started coming in...and they were less than stellar.
I put off reading COLD-HEARTED RAKE for a while, but because I love Lisa Kleypas I wanted to give it a try. My tastes often don't align with what's popular, and Kleypas is such a great writer, that it really is shocking for me when I read something of hers that I don't like because it's such a rare occurrence. She's that good.
COLD-HEARTED RAKE features Kathleen, Lady Trenear, newly widowed after her husband, Theo Ravenel fell from an unbroken horse while drunk. His cousin, Devon Ravenel, inherits the estate upon Theo's passing, and he is less than pleased with the estate's conditions and debts. He intends to sell it piecemeal, and kick out its tenants, including Kathleen and his sisters, Helen, Cassandra, and Pandora.
The book starts out fairly well. I'm a fan of the enemies-to-lovers trope, and Kathleen had good reason to dislike Devon because of his callous insensitivity and utter selfishness. The trouble is, he warms to her and changes his ways far too quickly, to the point where it seems unrealistic, almost to the point of being a near-overnight transformation. I also felt like there was some indecision about how Kleypas wanted Devon to be characterized. He isn't exactly a cold-hearted rake - he's far too easily manipulated and too quick to feel guilt - but at the same time, he isn't a beta hero either, since he uses his sexual wiles to overpower the heroine and ignores several "nos" said on her part.
Also, the virgin widow trope is a peeve of mine, and I wasn't pleased to see it here.
Some have complained that the secondary romance between Helen and Winterbourne (it's not really a spoiler since, I mean, come on - the summary of the next book) overpowered the plot, and while this wasn't exactly the case, it did feel a bit like filler, especially in the latter half of the book. I've never read a Kleypas book where the secondary romance featured so prominently - usually it remained in the background, so as not to diminish the main story line. Winterbourne was kind of an ass, too.
I did like the descriptions of renovation, the interactions with the tenants and servants, and the witty banter (especially when done in epistolary form at the beginning of the book). I was torn on Cassandra and Pandora - they acted way younger than 19, and were so self-centered that sometimes I really didn't like them, although they had some great dialogue, too. The introduction of a pig as a pet was an interesting touch, but I didn't really find him comical, as he was undoubtedly intended to be. The beginning of COLD-HEARTED RAKE was much better than the end, which felt disorganized and kind of landed all over the place in terms of plot. This isn't her best, but it isn't her worst, either.
2.5 to 3 out of 5 stars.