HQN, $7.99. ISBN 978-0-373-77951-2
Historical Romance, 2015
The title of this book is quite misleading, as Prudence Cabot is not making her debut in London when she decides to have sex with a guy without giving much thought about how she’d fare in case she ends up as a single mother in early 19th century England. No, she puts out while running off on her own into the countryside with an American dude.
You know how it is when an American dude shows up in England. All of a sudden, those spies and rakes transform into wimpy milquetoasts when compared to the bursting virility of our don’t-need-no-edumacation, the-English-can-choke-on-my-democratic-beanpole dude. Indeed, when Roan Matheson – Prudence swoons because Roan is such an American name – shows up at the carriage depot with a badly scrawled barely-legible address, she decides to take off after him in his carriage. She’s supposed to go off on a safe and boring trip to get some space between her and her sisters, but now, she’s off on an adventure! A real one! Unfortunately, Roan is in an understanding to marry another woman back in America, but that doesn’t stop him from giving her some good oral schooling in American arts of love. Hey, don’t judge. It’s not like he’s had sex sex with her…. well, not until a handful of pages later anyway.
The Scoundrel and the Debutante actually has plenty of promise. I like Prudence at first. She is not a happy person because she is the only Cabot sister to live up to her virtuous name, only to have her sisters’ escapades turn the family into an “Oh my god, can you believe those people?” topic of conversation among the Ton and ruin her prospects of finding true love and settling down. She and her sisters have had enough of their passive-aggressive sniping at the start of the story, so Prudence decides to head off to the countryside in the company of some family friends to cool herself down and feel more like herself again. When an opportunity for a small and harmless adventure arises, she can’t resist. It’s supposed to be a small act of “daring” – taking a carriage on her own to her destination – but all kinds of troubles crop up along the way, forcing her and Roan to spend more time together. I can relate to Prudence’s discontent and loneliness at first, and I am ready to enjoy her story.
Roan seems like a fun guy at first too. He’s not exactly the smartest guy around, but he’s earnest and he’s determined. He is also amusingly shallow – he can’t stand the woman he’s supposed to marry because she is so unattractive in his eyes, although I’m sure there are readers who won’t find this aspect of him amusing and I can understand why. I like this, though, it gives him a hint of imperfection that nicely balances the whole tiresome “I’m American, and so I’m written to be so much better than everyone in England!” thing he has going for him.
Unfortunately, the author doesn’t seem to know what to do once Roan and Prudence begin sharing the same carriage. All kinds of breakdowns and accidents occur, and then, Prudence decides to run off on her own and walk to her destination (despite not knowing where exactly she should be going), forcing Roan to chase after her. This story soon degenerates into a tale where Prudence becomes no better than another object in Roan’s baggage, being dragged along by him while she keeps whining about her life or coming up with reasons why she and he really should have sex 24/7. Before long, this morphs into another tedious boring story of two people who have sex but she’s like a popcorn on a stove because he doesn’t say the “L” word while he’s the same because he can’t decide whether he’d just leave her or stay with her for the rest of his life. These characters’ attitude about sex and love is more akin to something contemporary – it’s like two modern-day people trying very hard to decide whether their bedroom romps are more important than they really are. I know, Roan is an American, but I doubt Americans in the early 19th century treat sex and love like life is a modern day romantic movie.
It’s a shame, really, how this story has two potentially interesting characters end up doing the same old boring routine that has been done many times before in other historical romance stories set the 19th century England. This story also celebrates impulsiveness and recklessness as the “good” way for women to find love, conveniently overlooking the fact that the women who walk this path have to be rescued by the men they hold dear, and that these men’s willingness to marry them at the end of the day allows them to avoid having to be a single mother in those days. As a result, The Scoundrel and the Debutante ends up being another tired old tale that is, often, too silly for its own good.