The Scoundrel
by Claire Delacroix, historical (2003)
Warner, $6.99, ISBN 0-446-61111-5

In Claire Delacroix's The Scoundrel, is a vintage Claire Delacroix book in terms of plotting and historical authenticity. The story is supposed to be set in Scotland, but everyone's names and some of the names of places all sound Welsh to me. Nonetheless, the mostly well-written main characters and their playful and sometimes poignant relationship make this book an enjoyable read.

Told in first person (the hero Gawain Lammergeier and the heroine Evangeline of Inverfyre take turns), The Scoundrel tells the story of Evangeline seducing Gawain to steal back a purportedly magical artifact, the Titulus Croce, so that her lands can be peaceful again and the peregrines of Inverfyre (the place's main source of income) can breed again. Why a heroine will want to help when her husband beats her silly and her cousin-in-law treats her like dung is beyond me, but hey, that's a romance heroine for you. Gawain then tries to steal back the Titulus Croce, then she gets pregnant, and the whole story ends up turning into some unnecessarily complicated tale of two confused and not-too-bright kiddies trying to figure out what to do with themselves.

When the story is told from Gawain's point of view, The Scoundrel really shines. A rake that has the privilege to lie, whore, charm, wheedle, and flatter - after all, he's a hero - Gawain is really convincing as a slutty and rakish thief. When he tells the story, The Scoundrel has a quaint "Sam Spade playing Medieval Cafe reenactions" feel to it, with Evangeline being the alluring gangster moll of the big bad Fergus, her husband. I like it! Evangeline is a weaker character in that the author doesn't seem to know what she really wants to do with Evangeline. Sometimes Evangeline is sharp and smart; at other times, she will contradict herself and perform some very dubious actions in the story. Still, she does experience some character growth, as do Gawain, and her interactions with Gawain resonate with convincing and charming chemistry.

By the end of the book, Gawain and Evangeline have really come to terms with themselves and with each other. Ms Delacroix still has some problems when it comes to plotting - the story starts up on shaky grounds - but by the last page, the story manages to pack in enough emotional punch to satisfy me. Gawain learns that he's not that irresponsible and flighty after all - he can be a good guy, hurrah. Evangeline, well, she's sometimes smart, sometimes a nitwit, but she's smart by the last page, so that's good. I think. Gawain and Evangeline manage to grow on me mostly because their relationship with each other often rings real despite everything they put each other through.

The Scoundrel may not be perfect, but it manages to steal my heart at the end of the day.

Rating: 85

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