Pocket, $7.99, ISBN 978-1-4516-0693-5
Historical Romance, 2011
I suppose every author has a My Fair Lady story waiting to be written, and A Lady’s Lesson in Scandal is Meredith Duran’s version of that tale. I give the author credit for daring to tackle some elements that readers may find a hindrance in their believing of the happily ever after, and I can only hope that risk doesn’t bite the author in the rear end.
Nell Whitby, our heroine, is born poor. She works in a factory and is in danger of being pimped out to the johns by her stepbrother when she learns that she is really the daughter of an Earl. Full of righteous fury about the injustice of her lot, she decides to go find that man and shoot her dead for abandoning her and her mother to the slums when she realizes that the man she wants to gun down is dead. She has a twin sister who stands to inherit everything, but if Nell makes her presence be known to all, she may get her fingers in the pie too. Simon St Maur, a distant cousin who needs some money ASAP, decides to take her in, groom her to become a proper lady, and marry her so that he can lay claim on her money. If she turns out not to be Cornelia Aubyn, well, he’d just toss her back into whatever hole she crawls out from. It’s not like the lady has anything to lose but everything to gain by playing along, right?
This one has an interesting premise, but I personally find it tad too contrived for my liking. The main characters, especially Nell, seem to have their behavior all over the place.
For example, Nell decides to play along with Simon because she wants some financial rewards for herself and her best friend Hannah. However, once her tutelage begins, she begins throwing temper tantrums like a child. She will not dance! She will not! She gets into pointless arguments with the maids. Her behavior doesn’t make sense because if she wants to play along, she wouldn’t start acting like a ten-year old girl. Simon eventually scolds her for her nonsense, correctly pointing out that she can leave if she wants to keep wasting everyone’s time. Her reaction is to feel offended because she has started to assume that Simon “likes” her. This is a woman who knows pretty well what Simon intends to do by marrying her, and somehow, she’s decided that he likes her for… I don’t know, running around acting like a spoiled brat? Amusingly enough, for all her sanctimonious disgust at the ways of the rich toffs, she has no problems forgiving someone who nearly got her killed in this story.
Then there is Simon. There is a chance that the courts will not accept that she is Cornelia Aubyn, and he knows that the guardian of Nell’s twin sister certainly won’t just stand by idly. By right, he should therefore treat Nell like an accomplice, filling her in on backup plans and what not, since they are both in for the long haul. However, Simon ends up keeping some major details of the plan from Nell. This is a set-up for a tedious conflict based on negative assumptions to crop up late in the story, but in the context of this story, the set-up makes Simon come off as a lousy strategist. I also don’t know what to make of his character. He starts off acting like a typical dude with angst determined to behave the worst to antagonize the family, but later on, the author reveals that he is actually a pretty responsible landlord to his tenants. Of course, we are all too cynical to have a hero who is just plain and simply nice, so Ms Duran tells me that Simon is just doing what he does because he enjoys lording it over people who depend on him for their livelihood. Uh, okay.
What I am trying to say here is that far too much of the characters’ behavior and characterization is too obviously designed to allow the author to have everything fall into place neatly in her story. When the author needs something “exciting” to happen, Nell starts throwing temper tantrums even when it is not logical for her to do so. When the author needs some conflict to fill the pages, Nell overhears some snippets of Simon’s conversation about things that he has kept from her, and starts flailing around like a headless chicken that refuses to die. To allow Nell to come off as not that much of a hypocrite, she loves Simon who conveniently enough turns out to have exemplary labor union standards. Far too many things about this story are overly staged right from the beginning.
When Nell is not trying so hard to generate conflicts between her and Simon, their quiet times are pleasant and enjoyable to read. But then again, I can also find this type of scenes in the author’s previous books. This one suffers from the author playing her cards in an obvious way that gives away the game early in the round. For all the risks the author is taking with this book, it doesn’t flow so well, and I can only wonder whether there was much editorial hijacking going on during its road to publication.