St Martin’s Press, $7.99, ISBN 978-1-250-00380-5
Historical Romance, 2013
Before I begin, I have better warn you guys that my issues with Elizabeth Essex’s A Breath of Scandal stem mostly from key revelations and developments that happen late in this story. Since I can’t avoid mentioning those things here, this review is going to contain some major spoilers. You know what to do if you want to avoid them.
So, this book. It’s the second book in the author’s Reckless Brides series, and it’s exactly what it says on the cover – there is a reckless heroine running wild here. Like her namesake, Antigone Preston is stuck between death and dishonor. Okay, it’s not that dramatic – it’s either marriage and unhappily ever after with the much older control freak Lord Aldridge or spending the rest of her life knowing that she is responsible for causing her mother and her sister to live in dire poverty.
Yes, her father was that adorable bumbling scholar type who naturally left the family finances in utter shambles after his death, but it’s the mother who tries to piece back together their lives using the best method of that area – selling off her daughters to the highest bidder – that is given the cartoon villain treatment. Whn she keeps bumping into Captain William Jellicoe, a restless seafaring action man currently landlocked due to Napoleon enjoying the hospitality of Elba, she can’t resist running off with him to do naughty things.
I can understand Antigone’s feelings and why she rebels – a young woman can only play the martyr for so long before all those balled-up feelings just explode and she can’t help but to give everything the middle finger and jump off the cliff. I can relate to that, and I feel that, in this instance, Antigone’s “recklessness” doesn’t make her stupid as much as it makes her human.
Still, I can only feel for her for so much. When the story sees her falling into a pattern where she runs from one stupid stunt to another, only to briefly wallow in “What have I done?” kind of guilt after she’s done it again, Antigone stops being human and starts being a ninny instead.
The problem here is that the author tries to have everything where her heroine is concerned. If Antigone wants to give everything the finger, then let her go all the way and jump completely off the cliff – I’d respect her better that way. But Ms Essex has Antigone running wild while offering constant and repetitious lip service about feeling guilty and what not. This only makes the poor heroine seem wishy-washy and silly. When she reaches the predictable “I must give myself to Will – because I love him!” point of her life, I actually roll up my eyes because all the back and forth up to that point makes this particular decision the most disastrous whim she can come up with.
But still, she’s actually the better half of the couple. Will, oh, Will. Now, Antigone basically does all the saving herself thing here. I like that, and I’m not mad that the author doesn’t have the hero racing up to save the day on a white horse. But what I really don’t like here is that the heroine has to do everything herself because the hero chooses to abandon her once he realizes that he’s not willing to sleep in the bed he has made. She’s good for kisses and some heavy petting, but once he realizes just how desperate she is to flee from her husband-to-be, he’s basically, “Sorry, not my thing – bye!”
What really annoys me here is that Will knows, at that point, that Lord Aldridge is a nasty piece of work. And yet, he argues that he can’t bring himself to ruin her – even after he has created plenty of talk by hanging around her – so she’s better off with that guy. And by nasty piece of work, we’re talking about a disgusting homosexual that forces impoverished young boys to have sex with him.
Yes, this is yet another story where being gay is equated to being a pedophile and being evil. I don’t get it. The author beats me in the head – no, she practically grabs me by the neck and slams my forehead repeatedly against the wall until I bleed, so to speak, about how unsuitable Lord Aldridge is up to that point. That man is odious, patronizing, condescending, boorish, chauvinist, cruel, selfish and worse. It’s obvious and I get it – he is horrible. Dropping in the “revelation” that the man is a deviant gay creep is overkill, and, worse, it’s unnecessary because the man is already awful enough. I don’t know why the author chooses to do this, unless she wants to announce to the world in the most offensive manner possible that she has issues with men that prefer their own sex. But why would anyone want to do that in a romance novel? Don’t we have right-wing rallies for this kind of melodramatic proclamations? I don’t get it.
The prose can get tad flowery at times, but this book is very easy to read from a technical standpoint. It’s a bit slow, and there isn’t any seafaring fun here, unlike the previous book in the series. Still, things wouldn’t be so bad if the hero hadn’t resemble too much a real life deadbeat boyfriend and the author hadn’t chosen a most inopportune time to suggest that she has issues with gay guys. Why don’t we all take a breather and ponder over the wise words of Jonathan Larson when he said: “Sodomy: it’s between God and me!”?