The Vicar and the Rake – Annabelle Greene
Debut author Annabelle Greene brings us the brilliant first book in her Society of Beasts series, in which a quiet country vicar is unwillingly reunited with the duke who left him long ago…
As a young man, Sir Gabriel Winters left behind his status as a gentleman, turning his back on his secret desires and taking a self-imposed vow of celibacy. Now he’s a chaste, hardworking vicar, and his reputation is beyond reproach. But, try as he might, he’s never forgotten the man he once desired or the pain of being abandoned by his first love.
Edward Stanhope, the Duke of Caddonfell, is a notorious rake, delighting in scandal no matter the consequence. With a price on his head, he flees to the countryside, forced to keep his presence a secret or risk assassination. When Edward finds Gabriel on his estate, burning with fever, he cannot leave him to die, but taking him in puts them both in jeopardy.
With the help of a notorious blackmailer, a society of rich and famous gentlemen who prefer gentlemen, and a kitten named Buttons, they might just manage to save Edward’s life—but the greatest threat may be to their hearts.
I’ve complained that historicals haven’t worked for me since last year, even the usually brilliant K.J. Charles books.
The Vicar and the Rake was a random pick and a blind read at that. I was ecstatic that not only did it click, it was a one-sitter and a 5-star!
I was already deep inside the story when I realized similarities to the classic historical series, Society of Gentleman by K.J. Charles. I totally didn’t mind. If it was an homage, it was a wonderfully done tribute to my favorite gay gents.
This is the story of two childhood friends, Edward Stanhope and Gabriel Winters. They spent their youthful days on the cusps of secret evolving feelings when Edward ghosted, leaving Gabriel adrift and pining.
Ten years later, the infamous rake, Edward a.k.a. Scandal, skulks back to his estate with a pugnacious, insolent valet in tow. He’s hiding from the Duke of Sussex, who is hellbent on his demise after he was caught canoodling with the duke’s son. Upon arrival, Edward stumbles upon Gabriel, now a vicar, lying unconscious and feverish in the gardens.
Edward is the founder of the Society of Beasts, along with his friends Frakes, Hartley, and Lambert. This is an uber-elite, super-secret club for gentlemen who prefer gentlemen. They called themselves Beasts the same way queers have embraced the word that was previously a slur.
The four friends band together to save Edward and take down the enemy duke, but cracks appear when a traitor is discovered among their ranks. Who?! I wished the other Beasts were introduced sooner so there’s more time to flesh out their personalities.
I get that most of the plot focused on delicious tension between Edward and Gabriel, and I enjoyed the heck out of it. The two are dorks, Edward most of all. The man is hot/cold, skittish, and desperately wants to be good but fails miserably. Gabriel is heart eyes, stalwart adoration, and pure goodness. It was hallelujahs when Edward finally stopped running!
However, the best character was Morris, Edward’s formidable and hella scary secret-monger brother. He is the most feared man in London, who knows everyone’s deepest, darkest secrets and rumored to hold even the regent himself by the throat.
I love Morris so much! You’d think he’d be vile and evil. Sure, he’s cold, blunt, and utterly Machiavellian, but he’s also at his wit’s end trying to save the life of a brother who seemed flagrantly unrepentant about the trouble he caused and is now making more trouble with the vicar as we speak.
At first, I couldn’t understand why Morris was making that much effort. He always acts like he hates Edward. Later, it was revealed how much Edward sacrificed to protect his little brother from their abusive father during their childhood. I realized, the bond between the brothers will always be unbreakable and true no matter how they act towards each other. For me, this was the most poignant part of the story.
A delightful female character was introduced in the form of Gabriel’s sister, Caroline, recently widowed. Graceful, proper, and uncannily perceptive, she matched Morris’s wit and strategic genius, subtly nudging his thoughts in unexpected but enlightening points as they hatch their counterattack to Sussex. And this woman is simply divine for bringing out Morris’s endearing human side.
As all best Regencies go, The Vicar and The Rake is ripe with USTs, shenanigans, danger, mystery, and intrigue. The dialogues are sharp and witty, and listening to this kind of writing when narrated by the great Cornell Collins is pure eargasm! Captivating, twisty turn-y, combustible, and perfectly put together, this is exactly how historical romance should be!
5 Stars – absolutely perfect
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