Dear Dreamscape Media,
So often have I seen a favourite and/or long awaited book come out in audio only to have my heart sink when I see the name of the narrator, or for me to start listening with high hopes – only to have them dashed within minutes because the narration is poor. I cannot tell you how happy I am that this didn’t happen when I started listening to your new recording of Mary Jo Putney’s The Rake, one of the most popular, most beloved historical romances ever written. Mark Meadows was a splendid choice of narrator and I will be eternally grateful to you for putting this much loved story into such capable hands.
Much love (and please, get Mr Meadows to record some more historical romances!),
Mary Jo Putney’s The Rake (originally published in 1989) is, quite deservedly, listed in All About Romance’s Top 100 all-time favourite romance novels. It’s a book I’ve long hoped would become available in audio, so I was delighted when I stumbled across it while on one of my regular trawls through Audible’s new release lists. As I had never heard of or listened to Mark Meadows I was a little apprehensive, but I decided to give it a try anyway, and after about twenty seconds, I heaved a huge sigh of relief, because Mr. Meadows’ performance is an absolute barnstormer. Yes – we’re talking someone who could give Nicholas Boulton or Alex Wyndham a run for his money.
Known throughout society as the Despair of the Davenports, thirty-seven-year-old Reginald Davenport is quite thoroughly debauched. For years, his exploits have provided entertainment for the ton, his numerous mistresses, frequent carousing and high-stakes gaming generating gossip wherever he goes and earning him quite the blackest of reputations.
Up until two years earlier, Reggie had been the heir to his uncle, the Earl of Wargrave, but things changed abruptly when a missing heir to the earldom was located and Reggie suddenly found himself facing a very different future to the one he had envisioned. The fact that he was no longer heir to a title didn’t exactly bother him – rather it was the fact that he had no idea what he to do with himself; if not to become a landowner and peer, what is he going to do for the rest of his life? Bitterness and uncertainty plunged him even deeper into debauchery, seeing his alcohol consumption increase drastically, and by the time we meet him at the beginning of this story, it’s clear that his drinking has gone beyond his control and he’s become an alcoholic. He has yet to recognise that, though, in spite of a niggling voice in his head which occasionally tells him “this way of life is killing you.”.
Following the old earl’s death, Reggie’s cousin, the new earl, discovers that among the estates left him is one that should, by rights, belong to Reggie, the Dorsetshire estate of Strickland. Strickland was Reggie’s childhood home – and he is both furious that the old earl kept him from inheriting it, and surprised at his cousin’s generosity in giving it back to him. Fortunately for Reggie, Strickland has, for the past decade, been managed by an exemplary steward by the name of A.E Weston, whom Wargrave has never met, so Reggie is more than a little surprised when he arrives unexpectedly at Strickland to discover that the “A” in A.E Weston stands for Alys. She is, of course, worried that his discovery will lead to her dismissal, but Reggie quickly proves to be very open-minded and, given her successful management of the estate, keeps her on as steward.
Reggie and Alys are strongly attracted to each other, but Reggie knows it isn’t the done thing to dally with the staff and tries – not always successfully – to keep his hands off Alys. They become friends, as Reggie begins to show what he’s really made of; that, far from being an indolent wastrel, he has a good grasp of the principles of land management and that he isn’t afraid to muck in and get his hands dirty, toiling alongside his farm workers – and when Alys’ home burns down, he gets his first real taste of what it means to be part of a family when she and her young wards move into Strickland.
This is a romance so you don’t need me to tell you where things are headed – but it’s far more than ‘just’ a romance; it’s also the story of a man struggling to turn his life around who doesn’t always make the right choices. The author’s incredibly realistic portrait of Reggie’s battle with the bottle makes this book stand out from so many other historical romances and it’s utterly heart-breaking to listen to him as he tries – and fails – to get his drinking under control and makes poor decisions. Mary Jo Putney does an amazing job here of portraying the demons that plague him, and just as amazingly doesn’t fall into the trap of having him miraculously redeemed through the love of a good woman. While Strickland – and Alys – are great motivators, Reggie decides to get sober for him, not someone else.
Although The Rake really is Reggie’s story, Alys is an engaging character in her own right. She has secrets of her own that come into play in the latter part of the book, and although she is strong and capable when it comes to her work, she harbours long-held doubts about her attractiveness which make her a very relatable heroine. The romance between Alys and Reggie is beautifully developed, they have terrific chemistry and the love scenes, while not overly explicit by today’s standards, are sensual and romantic.
Mark Meadows is an experienced narrator, with over seventy titles to his credit at Audible. Sadly, none of those are romances, and that is something that really needs to be remedied quickly. He delivers an absolutely superb performance here, and I really can’t praise it highly enough. His pacing in narrative and dialogue is spot on, he brings the right degree of emotional nuance to the story and his character differentiation is extremely effective throughout. There is never any confusion when there is a group of men speaking in any particular scene, the local tenants and farmers are given appropriate accents, and he performs the female characters using a slightly raised pitch and softened tone, without resorting to the use of falsetto. But just as Reggie is the star of the show in the story, so Mr. Meadows’ portrayal of him is the star turn in the narration. He gets Reggie’s ennui-laden, aristocratic drawl just right; enough to show his disregard for what people think of him, but not so much that he sounds ridiculous and unattractive. He changes it subtly over time, showing that Reggie is changing, too, his artificial manner of speech gradually leaving him as he slowly reveals the truly good, kind man that always lurked beneath the rakish exterior.
Fans of The Rake will, I hope, be utterly delighted with this audio version and with Mr. Meadows’ excellent performance. I will definitely be listening to it again in the not too distant future, and I am delighted to give it the strongest of recommendations.
Book Content: A-
Steam Factor: Glad I had my earbuds in
Violence Rating: Minimal
Genre: Historical Romance
Publisher: Dreamscape Media
The Rake was provided to AudioGals by Dreamscape Media for a review.