I’m on a Historical Romance kick for the first time in years, and I plan to take advantage of it for as long as it lasts. So I will be reviewing all the Historicals I read. I feel like I’m catching up on some highly praised stories and authors that I missed when they first were published. So you probably will be seeing some favorites.
A Lady’s Lesson in Scandal served as a reminder of how great the sub-genre is. I bought it after Mean Fat Old Bat reviewed it. She is an experienced reader who just recently discovered the genre, so her take on Romance is fresh and interesting.
Our heroine is Nell. She’s very poor, works at a factory under inhuman conditions and has an evil stepbrother who wants to whore her out. But she knows how to read and is very proud, so regardless of how desperate she is, she won’t compromise her honor. And she’s quite desperate; her mother is dying and needs a doctor, but there’s no money to pay for one. Her mother tells Nell to search for Lord Rushden, her real father. She’s surprised to hear the news, but ends up writing to him, begging for his help. But when her mother dies without any response from the Lord, Nell decides to kill him. What she doesn’t know is that Lord Rushden died months ago, and the new bearer of the title is a distant relative with a black reputation who’s just as desperate for money as she is.
Simon St. Maur inherited a title without money attached to it. The late Lord Rushden left all his money to his twin daughters, one of which was kidnapped when she was little. When Nell shows in his house to kill him, or to kill the other Lord Rushden, he immediately recognizes as the long lost daughter. So what is a guy to do? Offer her marriage, of course. They agree to marry and split the money between them. But in order to do that, she must be presentable as the lady she’s supposed to be. So the transformation, and their love story, begins.
This book is as close as it gets to a realistic Pygmalion story. Yes, the hero takes the factory girl and turns her into a lady, but is a transformation I can believe in, mostly because he doesn’t have to teach her how to read. But it serves as a background for their love story, and gives them the perfect excuse to get to know each other.
Nell and Simon were compelling and entertaining characters. Their sense of humor, intelligence and heart, made a joy to spend time in their company. It was a pleasure to read this book, and it is all because of the wonderful main couple. She was a bit helpless, but I never felt she lacked agency. He was ruthless, but never heartless. There’s a scene near the end when he realizes he loves her, because he’s willing to sacrifice all his money if it means being with her. It was such an honest statement and a great reflection of his character. Yes, he liked being rich, he liked it a lot, but he loved her more.
It’s a love story in which the couple really talks and communicates. There’s plenty of banter and mutual respect. They become lovers, but also friends.
Unfortunately, the villains were the weakest part of the book, and nowhere near as complex as Nell and Simon. One of them was cartoonish, and the other might have been interesting, but didn’t have much of a role in the story, until the end, when he became a cliché. The relationship between Nell and her sister was also left unexplored. The sister was manipulated the whole time, and it forces them apart. But the potential was there, and it was a missed opportunity. Then there’s the big misunderstanding, which I thought was contrived and not up to par with the rest of the story. But then again, my favorite scene in the book takes place during that misunderstanding, so I guess it was worth it:
They are fighting --or more like she’s fighting with him-- and she tells him about some of the terrible things she had to endure:
Her laugh sounded high and wild. “What’s it about? I reckon you would be asking yourself that—I’ll wager you never thought to wed a woman who might have eaten rat stew! Well, there are more stories where that came from, your lordship. How about the winter me stepbrother took to pissing himself to keep warm? I was right jealous of his aim! How do you feel about your wife now?”
And later on, they are visiting her friends:
When Nell relaxed slightly, he sensed it—glancing toward her, his brow lifting. Was that a question on his face? Or did he think he should be congratulated for daring to eat with the laborers?
“Mum used to have a chair like the one you’re using,” she told him. “We had to burn it one winter to keep the fire going. Would have frozen to death, otherwise.”
Out of the corner of her eye, she caught Hannah’s startled look. Simon said neutrally, “Was that the same year Michael pissed himself to stay warm?”
It’s heartbreaking, dramatic and entertaining. It felt real to me, and I was so happy these two find each other and get the happy ending they so deserved. Ms. Duran has a great voice, but is accessible and not overly embellished, so there's no gimmick to it, and lets the characters and story speak for themselves.
I would absolutely recommend it to everyone, especially to those who, like me, have fallen a bit out of love with Historical Romance, and need a book to remind them why they used to love it so much.
Review by Brie
IN GRITTY, WORKING-CLASS LONDON, SHE DOES WHAT SHE MUST TO SURVIVE . . .
When Nell Whitby breaks into an earl’s house on a midnight quest for revenge, she finds her pistol pointed at the wrong man—one handsome as sin and naked as the day he was born. Pity he’s a lunatic. He thinks her a missing heiress, but more to the point, he’ll help her escape the slums and right a grave injustice. Not a bad bargain. All she has to do is marry him.
A NOTORIOUS LADIES’ MAN COULD TAKE HER FROM POVERTY TO OPULENCE . . . BUT AT WHAT PRICE?
A rake of the first order, Simon St. Maur spent his restless youth burning every bridge he crossed. When he inherits an earldom without a single penny attached to it, he sees a chance to start over—provided he can find an heiress to fund his efforts. But his wicked reputation means courtship will be difficult—until fate sends him the most notorious missing heiress in history. All he needs now is to make her into a lady and keep himself from making the only mistake that could ruin everything: falling in love. . . .
Pocket Star. June 28, 2011.