Book review: Cat Sebastian’s “The Ruin of a Rake”

I thought news about gay rights in India would be appropriate as a character in the novel spent his childhood in India.

As a young kid, I’ve read my fair share of historical romance. As a child with an interest in history but a lack of history teachers enthusiastic about the subject they were teaching, these books let me take a peek into those eras, and had the added bonus of having some kissing in them as well.

But, as expected of books at the time — early to mid 90s — gay people were either not there, an antagonist, or an inconsequential side character. It wasn’t something I noticed when I was reading them back then, of course, but now seems spectacularly obvious now that I’m old and decrepit.

A gay historical romance wasn’t something I ever even considered, stupidly enough, so I was really excited to read Cat Sebastian’s “The Ruin of a Rake” when Mina lent me a copy. It’s technically my first gay historical romance — I don’t think “Maurice” counts — so I was ready to be wowed!

“The Ruin of a Rake” tells the story of Lord Courtenay and Julian Medlock, two men whose temperaments just don’t seem made for each other.

Lord Courtenay, for instance, is infamous for his rakish ways and supposedly hedonistic lifestyle. Julian, on the other hand, is the perfect prim and proper gentleman. Their worlds have no reason to mix, until events in the book conspire to bring them together.

As they spend more and more time together, they start to discover that they may not be so different from each other after all. But when a secret Julian’s been keeping from Lord Courtenay is revealed, will their blossoming affection withstand the turmoil that follows?

“The Ruin of a Rake” takes on probably my favorite trope — good boy/bad boy, with the added bonus of it happening in the Regency era and the assurance that things will end happily for the characters.

But don’t take that to mean that Lord Courtenay and Julian live in a world where the realities of being a queer person are ignored. While not front and center for most of the book, it does inform the challenges they go through in the final third of the novel.

I also liked the fact that the story wasn’t about the two characters coming to terms with being into guys. The two are very aware of their same-sex attraction and are at no point trying to convince themselves otherwise. The most they worry about is when to express this attraction and how to appropriately do it. That Julian and Lord Courtenay have two different ideas to go about it adds delicious conflict.

The plot is engaging enough to keep me going, although I must admit not compelling enough that I couldn’t put it down. But what twists and turns there were were very effective, and when Sebastian does twist the knife it hurts so good.

All in all, “The Ruin of a Rake” was a really good gay historical romance for me to start with, and I will be on the lookout for the two other books in the series.

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