Sourcebooks Casablanca, $7.99, ISBN 978-1-4926-2350-2
Historical Romance, 2015
Ladies and gentlemen, this book is the very definition of “missed opportunity”.
In Search of Scandal features a battered Marco Polo-like hero, Will Repton, who still suffers from the horrifying events that led to the wiping out of his team in Tibet. Now, he is back in London, celebrated as a hero, but in truth, he desperately wishes to go back to Tibet for some much-needed closure. His soul is torn – he wants to lost himself in the wilderness he found outside of England, even if his travels leave such deep, deep scars in his soul. He is now in London to raise funds for his next trip back there. He needs £2,000, and he doesn’t care if he has to beg every rich person in London to get that sum. Which is why he knocks on the door of the home of his father’s friend one fine day, hoping to get a pledge of £100 from that man.
On the other side of the door, we have Charlotte Baker. She knows she has to marry out of responsibility to her family. She has the dowry, and she is expected to marry someone from a higher station in life. However, she also knows that there is a risk that duty will, for her, lead to unhappiness. What happens if she marries a man who will constantly use her lower station to lord over her? She is also fascinated by accounts of Will’s adventures in the exotic Orient. The men in her family censor those accounts so that she only sees the grandeur but never the violence and other darker aspects of Will’s adventures, so she has created a very romanticized ideal of Will in her mind – one that she has fallen in love with.
To her, Will is the ideal husband for her: he is of a station lofty enough to be a suitable husband, but not high enough to have this disparity become an issue between them. And, as she surely knows from his accounts, he is also noble, kind, dashing, handsome, larger than life… and when she meets Will, even his gruffness and awkwardness around people do not deter her. He is her soul mate, all she has to do now is to make him understand.
Reading the first third or so of this book, I feel like I am on the edge of something glorious here – something magnificent. How can I not be led to believe that? Will is a gloriously tortured hero, and his desperate desire to confront his demons – because they’re waiting – is so haunting, stark, even beautiful to behold. As for Charlotte, she’s idealistic, naïve even, but she is shaped by her upbringing in this way – the men in her family sought to protect her by keeping her sheltered and ignorant, and to give Charlotte lots of credit, she’s not stupid. She’s just… left in the dark. She is aware of most things for the rest of the time, and it’s not her fault if she’s not aware that there are missing pieces in the jigsaw puzzle that is Will.
However, then comes the second third of the book and it all goes to hell. For one, the pacing has been excruciatingly slow all this while, but I was hoping for something indelible to come. Well, to my dismay, whatever that is indelible is never going to come – instead of taking the hero out of England or have Charlotte discover who Will really is, the author opts to have her characters play the tired old game of Will desperately trying to be a martyr while, of course, treating Charlotte like crap but reeling her back in when she’s close to having had enough, repeat and rinse. This is tedious and, more significantly, boring.
When Charlotte finally discovers Will’s true reason to want to go back to Tibet, she’s basically like, “WTF, douchebag, don’t you know that my family is rich and well connected, and the men all dote on me? Watch me now as I make all the necessary arrangements to get your ass out there, you moron!” And that’s what happens – god, Will is so lost in his determination to be the martyr douchebag of the year, he prolongs the story by so many pages unnecessarily just because he’s a dumbass. I can only wonder what the author is thinking to do the hero this much wrong. He starts out such a fascinating tortured character, only to turn into this broken record of a whiny douchebag.
I suspect that the hero is the major collateral damage in the author’s efforts to pad this story with conflict after conflict. Seriously, our hero and heroine face so many conflicts and drama, one after another, that it’s like all of life’s problems are domino pieces lined up to keep falling on them. It seems to me like the author had run out of ideas on how to keep the story going, so here comes the drama, one after another, to test the reader’s endurance for all that crap – most of it generated by Will’s obstinacy and mulish determination to be a selfish martyr – to see how long the reader can go before passing out.
At the end of the day, In Search of Scandal deserves far fewer oogies, but still… my heart is conflicted. A part of me weeps for what Will and Charlotte could have been. It’s really telling how much the author miscalculated by having Will find closure off the page – thus robbing me of any pay-off to all that build up about his PTSD. Why would the author do this? I could have screamed, I tell you. And there are moments in this story that are pure poetry, thanks to the author’s elegant narrative style. Let’s just say that the last two chapters of this book are simply exquisite – reading them, I almost forgot how dreary the chapters leading up to them had been. Almost.
What the heck, here are three oogies, since for all its faults, this one cuts my heart in a good way at times. I mean, I reread the last two chapters three times in a row just to savor the feels they give me, and how many books can claim to have that effect on me?