Book Review

Guest Review: The Ruin of a Rake by Cat Sebastian

Today, we have a guest review of The Ruin of a Rake by the much-recommended Cat Sebastian. This guest review comes from Heather Morris, who you may remember from her great guest write-up of the Hulu series Harlots.

Heather Morris is a cyborg librarian living in North Carolina. Her work has appeared in Shimmer, Strange Horizons, and Daily Science Fiction, among other places. She’s on Twitter @NotThatHeatherM and she blogs sporadically at

I discovered Cat Sebastian at random, as I was scrolling through covers on my ereader. The Soldier’s Scoundrel jumped right out at me. Most of the m/m and otherwise queer fiction I read is self-published or put out by small presses, the covers a mix of Photoshop and stock models. This is not to knock those covers, many of which are quite good, but to say I had never seen a m/m cover that looked like that. I think I got through about four words of the blurb before deciding that, yes, I needed to read this book, and I needed to read it immediately.

Thank goodness for impulsive decisions, because Sebastian has quickly become one of my favorite writers. And each book seems to be even better than the last.

The Ruin of a Rake is the third of Sebastian’s historical m/m romances (they technically do stand alone, but I think it’s best to read them in order to get a sense of all of the side-characters who weave in and out of each other’s stories). Its two heroes made a brief appearance in her previous book, The Lawrence Browne Affair, where they detested each other from the moment they met.

Lord Courtenay is stuck in England after years gallivanting around the Continent with his nephew and (now-deceased) little sister. He’s suddenly having to deal with the consequences of his infamously roguish ways—he has no money, he’s shunned by polite society, and, after a gothic novel featuring a villain suspiciously like him becomes a sensation, he’s barred from seeing his beloved nephew. About the only thing he has going for him is his friendship with Lady Eleanor Standish, an eccentric woman of a scientific bent, but she’s got plenty of her own problems to deal with.

The Soldier’s Scoundrel
A | BN | K | AB
Eleanor’s younger brother, Julian Medlock, is a prim, utterly proper man obsessed with social position. He knows how to dress, how to act, how to get invited to parties, how to make everyone in polite society forget or forgive that his money comes from (gasp) trade. And he absolutely detests Lord Courtenay. But when Eleanor suggests that Julian use his skills to get Courtenay back into society’s good graces, he reluctantly agrees. Eleanor’s sad, Julian feels guilty about it, and he thinks it will be easy enough to get Courtenay invited to some dinner parties and then get the man out of his sister’s life.

On the face of it, Courtenay and Julian have nothing in common. But I love a good opposites attract story, and I am definitely a fan of enemies to lovers. The Ruin of a Rake is very much “I hate you, I hate you, I can’t stop thinking about your hair” (sometimes literally).

Our heroes set off to repair Courtenay’s reputation, and the sparks start to fly. The two realize early on that they are both mutually attracted to one another and extremely sexually compatible, despite reservations on both sides. So most of the conflict in the novel stems not from will they or won’t they (oh, they very much will), but rather from the messy realities of emotional honesty, and from navigating the path to a successful relationship in a world that keeps throwing up obstacles.

Let’s get one elephant out of this room. Lord Courtenay is pretty much Lord Byron. And I’m a-ok with that, mostly because he ends up being much more developed than a cheap Byronic parody. Anyway, there’s a reason that Byron remains so iconic almost two centuries after his death. He is so dramatic, so capital-R Romantic, so, to borrow the parlance of the youths, fucking extra that he’s an easy template for men of a certain temperament and time. With Courtenay, Sebastian manages to subvert some of the tropes of the Byronic hero, and play with reader expectations. Also, I have to admit that when there was a reference to curling papers, I chortled.

Julian was the hero I connected with, though, which came as a bit of a surprise to me after his appearance in the previous book. He’s got a highly logical, mathematical mind. He’s been running the family business since he was basically a child, and dealing with chronic illness his whole life. He feels guilty over the state of his sister’s marriage, but he can’t figure out how to talk to her about it. He’s a puppetmaster who steers conversations and events the way he needs them to go—sometimes his manipulations are brilliant, sometimes they lead to disaster. He’s decidedly unromantic—he wants his sexual encounters businesslike, without the mess of feelings getting in the way—and though he knows how to get people to do what he wants, that doesn’t mean he understands them. At one point, he frustratedly exclaims “I ruin everything…I’m not good at people.” And yeah, maybe he’s being all melodramatic and young there, but for me it felt incredibly real, and raw, and true.

There are a lot of different threads of conflict going on in The Ruin of a Rake. I won’t detail them all, but there’s one spoilery thing I think is worth mentioning. The thing that has finally, irrevocably ruined Courtenay’s reputation is a gothic novel, The Brigand Prince, featuring his supposed misdeeds in unsavory detail. If you’ve ever encountered a piece of fiction before, you’ll pretty soon figure out that…

Show Spoiler
Julian wrote the book. Because of course he did. But the way this played out worked really well for me. He actually wrote it before meeting Courtenay, and only borrowed the aesthetic elements afterwards, when he couldn’t stop thinking about how hot the guy was. He fucked up, and he knows it, and he eventually figures out how to use his words and apologize.

What I appreciated most, though, is that this isn’t the main conflict by any means. In any other book it probably would be. Instead, this story’s about each man navigating his emotions, his sense of self, and his place in the world, and figuring out how having a person you love at your side changes your plans.

The Ruin of a Rake does acknowledge the dangers of having a homosexual relationship in a time and place where it was criminal a bit more overtly than the two previous books. The heroes of those other books were all people who were able and willing to give up their positions in society, step back and basically hide their relationships in plain sight. Neither Courtenay nor Julian can do that. And so they have to figure out how to be together in a world where they could be prosecuted or killed for it. They do work it all out in the end, but for me while it works as a HEA, for some it might feel more like a HFN.

I do love that there’s no angst regarding queerness, though. Borrowing modern terms, Julian is gay, Courtenay is bi, they’ve both had plenty of previous partners, and neither of them much cares or feels inadequate or faces any existential dilemmas about it. They both have guilt over plenty of things, but it’s never a result of their sexual identities.

One thing I’ve noticed with all of Sebastian’s books is that, about 2/3rds of the way through, at a point where I feel the conflicts have mostly resolved themselves, she drops in a new conflict that doesn’t quite fit, that feels forced or predicated on characters acting in uncharacteristic ways. That happens here, too, when…

Show Spoiler
Eleanor walks in on Julian and Courtenay making out and kind of loses her shit.

The resulting conflict didn’t feel earned to me, though the ultimate resolution worked into the happy ending.

That quibble aside, there are so many things little things that I loved about The Ruin of a Rake. Platonic male-female friendship (as far as I’m concerned there’s never enough platonic male-female relationships in fiction, and if I hadn’t loved Julian so much, Courtenay and Eleanor’s relationship would have definitely been my favorite thing about the book). Sharpshooting and fake duels. Seduction-by-bookkeeping. A frankly excessive amount of kittens. I could go on, but this is already fourteen hundred words. Sebastian’s writing is breezy and fun. Her dialogue is sparkling. And even her side-characters come fully to life. I do feel there are pacing issues, which made me consider a B grade, but I found the writing and characters are so strong that I think it’s fair to settle on an A-.

This book is available from:
  • Available at Amazon
  • Order this book from apple books

  • Order this book from Barnes & Noble
  • Order this book from Kobo
  • Order this book from Google Play

As an Amazon Associate we earn from qualifying purchases.
We also may use affiliate links in our posts, as well. Thanks!

The Ruin of a Rake by Cat Sebastian

View Book Info Page

Add Your Comment →

  1. mspym says:

    I stumbled on Cat Sebastian in a similar fashion and she immediately became an auto-buy. My favourite so far is The Lawrence Browne Affair – mad scientists! Con artists! Crumbling gothic castle! – but Lord Courtney is a charmer and Julian is an endearing manipulator.

  2. Berry says:

    Great review. I wasn’t sure I wanted to read this because enemies to lovers isn’t usually my thing, but the context and development of their relationship makes this sound so good that now I have to buy it.

    I’m so amused that the cover of Soldiers Scoundrel made someone want to read the book. I’m the complete opposite–I’ve found all of Sebastian’s book covers so creepy and oddly proportioned…I almost didn’t read SS because of the cover.

  3. This sounds like a fabulous homage to Georgette Heyer’s Sylvester! Have you read that one? I’m wondering how many parallels Cat Sebastian worked in! No matter what, this book sounds wonderful, and I’ll definitely be trying it.

  4. Heather S says:

    I adore Cat’s books! I preorder them months in advance and devour them on release day.

  5. Rachel says:

    Thanks for the review! Oh, I loved this one so much, notwithstanding the pacing issues smartly identified above. I think it can be so hard to write an enemies-to-lovers where the characters really do start out far apart but ultimately build a healthy, supportive, respectful bond. This one just did it so well for me.

    I found Julian and Courtenay to be such dear characters, even though at first glance both would seem hard to like; Sebastian does the whole peeling back layers of characterization thing so well. I think one of the most endearing traits each showed was a genuine protectiveness of the other, and I loved the way Sebastian played with expectations (including the characters’ own) about who, as between the seemingly sheltered accountant and the big, bad Byronic hero, needed protecting in any given moment. There’s a couple of chapters that chronicle a day where Julian accompanies Courtenay to his family home to sort some business, which for me goes in the absolute hall of fame of things I love about romance.

  6. Ren Benton says:

    All three books are also currently on the cheap (this one $2.99, the first two $1.99), if that sways anyone else typically hesitant about trying new-to-you authors.

  7. Cristie says:

    An excessive amount of kittens AND seduction by bookkeeping?! Shit I’m going to have to buy this.

  8. Anonymous says:

    I’m like @Berry; these covers trigger a strong uncanny valley effect in me, and so I’ve stayed away from them. But I think this review has persuaded me to give them a go.

  9. cleo says:

    I seem to be in the minority, but I have mixed feelings about this book and this series.

    I used to read a lot of Julia Quinn and other Avon mf historical authors and this is definitely an mm historical in that style. I keep going back and forth about whether or not I think that’s a good thing or not. There’s something about the light, fluffy quality of this series that bugs me when the subject is gay men – it feels a little too much like whitewashing a grim history to me.

    I can’t quite put my finger on why this particular series bugs me when others don’t – I love KJ Charles’ mm historicals, including Wanted, A Gentleman, which is the closest she’s come to writing fluffy. And I like Ava March, who writes historical mm erotic romances that are clearly more fantasy than reality based. But Ava March isn’t a mainstream author. I’m not a big stickler for historical accuracy in my romance (mostly because my brain doesn’t work like that).

    And then I think, well, don’t we queer readers deserve the same fluffi-fication of history that straight readers get? And I certainly have enjoyed reading this series, especially books 1 & 3.

    Mostly what I hope is that readers who discover mm for the first time through this series will go on to try other queer romances.

  10. Rose says:

    I loved everything about this review. This was so good. This was an A+++ review.

    The third + is for “He is so dramatic, so capital-R Romantic, so, to borrow the parlance of the youths, fucking extra that he’s an easy template for men of a certain temperament and time.” Well done.

  11. Allison says:

    Bought the book on your recommendation and utterly loved it. Thank you! Now off to purchase the rest of the series…

  12. “a gothic novel featuring a villain suspiciously like him becomes a sensation”


    *audible “tchunk” of tbr growing*

  13. susan says:

    @cleo I’m with you on this series. I read the first two books because they were on sale, but I have two overarching issues.
    1. The author uses really modern language and phrases that just jump out as being from the wrong time, like “no worries” and “no harm no foul,” which comes from baseball!
    2. The resolutions/rescues happen too conveniently.

    I am not likely to continue reading this series.

  14. Linda P says:

    I love all the books in this series, the Lawrence Browne Affair was probably my favorite but Ruin of a Rake was also excellent, loved how the characters developed. Also love KJ Charles.

  15. Brianna H says:

    I really love the way that Cat Sebastian writes relationship development. I’ve read 4 of her novels now and love how she puts as much emphasis on the characters doing small things for one another that show that they know how to take care of that specific person. Like, her characters are not just blank spaces to be filled with the same wants/needs. I really love her work and this was my favorite!

  16. Lindsay Myers says:

    I think the critique that Sebastian sometimes uses contemporary language and can be hand wavey about the very real danger gay men faced, but I also think its outweighed by the fun of basically queering what straight readers get from someone like Tessa Dare or anyone who writes sort of rompy novels.

    Another in this series is basically a hilarious queering of the premise of The Sound Of Music and that had me giggling as well!

Add Your Comment

Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes:
<a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <s> <strike> <strong>


This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

↑ Back to Top