Ballantine, $7.99, ISBN 978-0-345-53474-3
Historical Romance, 2013
A Most Scandalous Proposal is exactly what it seems to be from the packaging: a generic title, a generic cover featuring a generic model in a generic pose… what could it be but another light historical romance romp? This one is borderline farcical at times, fueled mostly by the heroines’ melodrama – yes, heroines, plural – and, as to be expected nowadays, the whole thing feels more like contemporary people playing dress-up games than a little bit authentic historical romance set in those days. I mean, in this one, heroine Julia St Claire is BFF with our hero Benedict Revelstoke, and she thinks nothing of asking him to talk to her privately in some darkened corner in the middle of a party because of their friendship. It’s that kind of romance.
Julia is BFF with Benedict, and neither of them wants to marry. Yes, we’ve all heard that song before. When the story opens, Benedict discovers that there is a bet made in the club that the Earl of Clivesden would marry Julia. The one who made the bet, William Ludlowe, is the town golden boy. And what do you know, he stands to inherit that title. He wants to win and he wants Julia! Oh no! Thus, Benedict finds himself determined to protect Julia from a marriage to Ludlowe that will only bring her unhappiness.
Meanwhile, Julia’s sister has been in love with Ludlowe since she was a fetus or something, but she has a tendency to faint whenever she is in his presence, so she registers in his mind as much as a gum stuck on his sole. Come to think of it, at least he would acknowledge the existence of the gum by trying to scrape it off. He doesn’t bother that much with Sophia. But because Ludlowe is so shiny and pretty, Sophia pines after that man, weeping herself stupid time after time. The author manages to prevent a total wipe-out of my brain cells by having Sophia caught in an “Oops!” thing that has her engaged to another fellow, fortunately.
Julia, watching her young sister act like a deranged bunny boiler, is moved to decide that affairs of the heart are, er, bad for the heart so she will never marry for love. Of course, that means she should have no reasons not to marry Benedict then, right? Ah, but you know this kind of heroines: they are all hypocrites and liars who claim to know what they want when they actually have no idea and spend the whole story frantically chasing after a clue while coming up with all kinds of reasons to allow the hero to still roger them without the “L” thing in the mix.
So, I have two heroines running around with their boyfriends, caught up in all kinds of nonsense to bring on the laughs. It’s hard to laugh, because I find the story too shallow and uninteresting. The story revolves around our heroines finally sorting out the tangled-up gibberish in their heads, so it’s a long wait as they wring their hands and go “Does he? Do I? Shall he? Shall I? Shall we?” I’ve had more fun standing in long queues behind idiots who spend twenty minutes trying to decide whether they want fries with their Big Mac.
On Julia’s part, it’s the same old story of an indecisive dingbat slowly coming to terms that she likes being married to the man she actually loves, often going through the same tortuous and often insipid song and dance that anyone who has ever read at least three Regency historical romances would be familiar with.
Sophia is slightly more interesting in that she provides some unintentional comedy with her deranged stalking bunny boiler antics when it comes to Ludlowe. But her sister takes up half of this story, so I never get anything more than a story of a silly girl substituting one object of her creepy affections with another. Her story with her beau could have been far more interesting than the banal song and dance Julia and Benedict are boring me with, but it is never developed enough to make me care even a bit.
The guys are far more interesting – aren’t they always, sigh – although that’s mostly because they are not forced to behave like confused and dazed hens for the story to keep moving.
At the end of the day, it’s all fluff and wallpaper history and silly women needing their bed partners to help them understand what they really want in life. I give the author some credit for avoiding overt tropes like those tired and overplayed clubs full of rakes who also happen to be spies, but still, her efforts are not enough to make this one stand out from so many light and forgettable Regency historical romances out there at the moment.