Review: The Rakess – Scarlett Peckham

Review: The Rakess – Scarlett PeckhamThe Rakess
by Scarlett Peckham
Series: Society of Sirens #1
Also in this series: The Portrait of a Duchess
Publisher: Avon
Publication Date: April 28, 2020
Genres: Romance
Pages: 400
Source: Edelweiss

I received this book for free from Edelweiss in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.

My rating: One StarOne StarOne StarOne Star

Meet the SOCIETY OF SIRENS—three radical, libertine ladies determined to weaponize their scandalous reputations to fight for justice and the love they deserve…

She's a Rakess on a quest for women's rights…
Seraphina Arden's passions include equality, amorous affairs, and wild, wine-soaked nights. To raise funds for her cause, she's set to publish explosive memoirs exposing the powerful man who ruined her. Her ideals are her purpose, her friends are her family, and her paramours are forbidden to linger in the morning.

He's not looking for a summer lover…
Adam Anderson is a wholesome, handsome, widowed Scottish architect, with two young children, a business to protect, and an aversion to scandal. He could never, ever afford to fall for Seraphina. But her indecent proposal—one month, no strings, no future—proves too tempting for a man who strains to keep his passions buried with the losses of his past.

But one night changes everything...
What began as a fling soon forces them to confront painful secrets—and yearnings they thought they'd never have again. But when Seraphina discovers Adam's future depends on the man she's about to destroy, she must decide what to protect…her desire for justice, or her heart.

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Content warnings: View Spoiler »

I’m sorry, but reading that blurb always gets “summer lovin’, had me a bla-a-a-st” stuck in my head. Which is a bit off-key, as this isn’t a breezy summer romance as the Grease comparison would suggest, but rather an absolutely stunning angst-ridden upending of the rake trope, complete with an “unlikeable” heroine and a saintly hero. I adored it, but I want to highlight that there’s a lot of content warnings for this book.

“Sirens, you see, are not born thirsting for justice.
Sirens are made.”

Also, how have I not read anything by Scarlett Peckham before? I’ve heard her recommended a million times, so when I saw the absolutely astonishing cover I couldn’t resist asking for a review copy. And, yes, the cover is *exactly* everything you’d expect from this book. It’s full of feels and angst, and it has that certain something that reminds me of Courtney Milan’s historicals. And if you’ve somehow missed my rabid fangirling, that’s pretty high praise.

Sera’s never told anyone, not even her very best friends, anything of what happened that led to her being kicked out of her home when she was a teen. It’s been years, though, so surely writing her memoirs will be a quick and easy way to raise money to found an institute to teach trades to women. And where better to go than the house she inherited from her parents in Kestral Bay, the scene of it all? But between problems for her friends in London and a chance encounter with a handsome architect, things aren’t shaping up quite how she expected.

“You mean you do corrupt impressionable girls and tempt them to a life of sin, like they claim in the papers?”
“No. But I could be called guilty of inviting nice architects to advise me on building costs when advice is not the only thing I’m after.”

Sera is as messy and unlikeable as every rake hero you’ve ever read. Her paramours are good for distraction or conversation, but not emotions – she’s quick and efficient at turning out one who has the bad taste to be – horrors! – a cuddler. She dulls her own emotions with copious alcohol, and is absolutely flummoxed as to why she’s failing at writing her memoirs. Adam’s a widower with two young children who still works with his brother-in-law at their family firm. He is, in a word, adorable, and I loved him. He’s principled (he considers reputation important, but decency even more so), but not perfect, and he initially struggles to reconcile the rakess who propositions him with the woman who is kind and gentle with his children. Their relationship evolves into everything I’m looking for in a romance novel – supportive, but not overbearing, and the sort where they bring out the best in each other.

“Perhaps this was a trait one needed to become a creature like Seraphina Arden: the ability to feast on threats and turn them into strength.”

There’s a lot to unpack in terms of how the rake trope is gender-swapped while still keeping it “historically accurate” – or, at least, as historically accurate as you can get with a historical romance, and while initially it was quite fun matching up the beats in this book with the traditional rake trope beats, eventually I became so enthralled that I was just sucked in. That’s not to say that there aren’t things I disliked about this book. It is fierce, and while I understand where the author was going and can’t remotely begin to suggest how she would have given an equivalent emotional punch, there was some content I truly wish had been left out, specifically View Spoiler ». I loved how both Sera’s and Adam’s attempts at working through their respective traumas are raw and ugly – there’s no lightbulb moment where suddenly either recognizes what’s wrong and then effortlessly fixes it – and they both make mistakes and assumptions that they have to apologize for and forgive. There’s a good supporting cast of characters, including the Sirens – Elinor, who starts the book after being committed to an asylum by her husband, Thaïs, a courtesan, and Cornelia, a scandalous painter. They didn’t get as much page time together as I would’ve wanted, but I’m hoping that’ll be reconciled in the next books, since it looks like the series will be structured around them. I’m also hoping for an HEA for the hero’s sister, though!

“What if I go, and it’s terrible?”
“Then you will come back to me and say, Thaïs, you jackal, you tricked me with your feeble logic of the slums. And we will gather together, the Society of Sirens, and curse the wicked men and this cruel life. And then we will dry our tears and find our next adventure.”

Overall, this was a wild, angsty, thought-provoking ride. I am very much looking forward to the next adventure in the series!

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