Signet, $3.99, ISBN 0-451-19953-7
Historical Romance, 2000
A Perfect Scoundrel is… well, I’m going to get knocked down for saying this, but Jane Wentworth – you go, girl! Take a bow, Jane, for your taming of a complete, unscrupulous rake is a feat worthy of Boudicca’s Hall Of Fame. Wimpy romance heroines, take note – yes, you can be feminine and still tame the man.
Jane is a shy, mousy woman who feels most unattractive compared to her brilliant stepsister Clarissa. She has the eyes for the most magnetic and chivalrous Lord Quentin Somerville, whom readers of For All Eternity would know is a scum of scums. When she and her sister Clarissa trade costumes for a masked ball, their action starts off a chain of motions that would change the lives of Jane and Quentin.
Thing is, Quentin isn’t a scoundrel, he’s a Scoundrel with a capital S. Spoiled and thoroughly despicable, he has this thing about bring a mere second son. Oh, even though he has lots of pocket money, he feels so unworthy because he’s – horror! – only a second fiddle. And he decides he loves Clarissa who no doubt wouldn’t want to marry a mere untitled second ass, sorry, son, like he. So, what’s a man to do? Compromise her and force her to marry him!
Thing is, Jane is dressed in Rissa’s costume, and she doesn’t put up a fight, declaring “I love you! I love you!” like a besotted buffoon instead. When she gets unmasked, Quentin calls her a lying tart.
Quentin’s father forces the wedding march to play, and Quentin brutalizes Jane on the wedding night. He then banishes her to the country.
At this point Quentin has been so thoroughly mutilated and dismembered in my mind that he resembles the Frankenstein monster after a grenade attack. Which is all the more delightful when we have our hero groveling in forgiveness soon after! When Quentin, under Daddy’s strict orders, goes off to fetch his wife back to London, lo, the wife isn’t the meek, infatuated, besotted, tongue-tied cow any longer. Carrying out her responsibilities in repairing Quentin’s estates have made her blossom, and she is not at all happy to see the mule back in her life.
And for once in his life, Quentin really feels ashamed and unworthy when he realizes how unworthy he is of Jane. He feels like an idiot when he realizes how little he knows of running his estates. Scumbag 0, Virtuous Heroine 1000.
Ms Cullman manages to convey Quentin’s repentance pretty well. It’s a bit too fast to be believable, but it’s fun. Set amidst the wonderfully gaily and lively harvest season (with an adorable dancing bear!), Quentin’s reformation and courtship is a joy to read. It’s better than swatting mosquitoes, much, much more fun too, to see Quentin grovel. And Jane doesn’t give in too easily, all the better. Jane learns to see deeper than physical beauty to find an object worthy of her affections, and Quentin has to work to get there.
The only thing that weakens the whole thing considerably is the over-the-top saccharine last few chapters. Here, “I love you!” fly faster than a flock of birds disturbed by an incoming tractor, and in ways that really make me feel somewhat ill. Lots of lovemaking and breathless clinging to each other. Really! I know Quentin and Jane has made up (and down and left and right, for that matter) but please, cease the disgustingly mawkish and gratuitous Full House antics.
Still, disgustingly sweet last few chapters notwithstanding, A Perfect Scoundrel is one of the more adorable books I’ve read in a while.