Avon, $5.99, ISBN 0-06-056516-0
Historical Romance, 2004
Lady Isabel Wentworth, our Regency-era heroine, is desperate. You see, she needs money. Her late husband leaves her with a pile of debts. Isabel naturally doesn’t want to downsize because she has to keep up appearances, you know. Oh, and she also needs to support the gambling habit of her brother. She loves him and she is sure that he will outgrow that habit one day but for now, she really needs the money to support him, pay off the bills, and maintain her current lifestyle. Won’t anyone sympathize with her dire fate, genteel readers?
Until that “have to support brother’s gambling habits” part, I’m actually liking Isabel, the perverse reader that I am. The whole concept of a gold-digging heroine determined to marry for money to keep her current lifestyle is a nice antidote to the martyr heroines the genre is awashed with. I really wish that Ms Hern has found a better way to endear Isabel to readers because the whole “catering to an idiot brother” thing makes Isabel as dumb as she is mercenary. When she decides to, er, “borrow” a brooch from her grandmother to attend a party (appearances, you know), she meets Richard Mallory.
Richard is surprised to see Isabel wearing a brooch that has been missing from his family and one that he has been charged by his grandmother to locate. The reason for this is actually sillier than it seems to be at the surface, but that’s to be expected, I guess, because the story takes a turn for silliness the moment Richard steals this brooch, the Mallory Heart, and Isabel, outraged to realize that he was actually staring at the brooch instead of at her breasts, steals it back. He steals it back, she steals it back again, and so they go until someone else steals the brooch and leaves the both of them totally flabbergasted. Alas, because Isabel believes that Richard is penniless (he isn’t), she knows that he is not for her. Is he?
Comedies aren’t easy to write, although some authors like Julia Quinn seem to make writing them so easy and effortless. In this case, Ms Hern’s humor flows freely when it comes to repartees and banters and there are plenty of chuckles to be had from those. When it comes to comedy that stems from actions, however, that’s when Ms Hern doesn’t succeed too well. The characters in this story do plenty of silly things, but most of these things are as outright stupid as they are dumb so they elicit groans rather than laughter from me. For example, Isabel and Richard are so successful in stealing the brooch from each other because they are horrible thieves. They don’t lock the brooch in a safe place, they carry the brooch or put them in places that are just begging for every man and his thieving mother to make a grab at it. With a meddlesome matchmaker running around creating even more contrived scenarios, as if Her Scandalous Affair isn’t overflowing to the brim with those already, the story becomes a blocked and very messy kitchen sink of implausible moments and unlikely coincidences.
The saving grace of this story is, other than the banters that sometimes catch me off-guard into laughing out loud, is Richard. Yes, it’s always the hero, isn’t it? In this case, Richard is witty, charming, and oh-so reluctant to fall in love even as he falls down that ravine so easily, that he’s a joy to read. Her Scandalous Affair is a bouncy and enjoyable read as long as one doesn’t mind the plot that becomes increasingly ridiculous with every turn of the page.