Avon, $5.99, ISBN 978-0-06-224490-1
Historical Romance, 2014
Every romance author has at least one beauty and the beast tale just waiting to be told, and here we have Caroline Linden doing just that. I’m surprised it took her this long, heh. While this one doesn’t deviate much from the wounded hunk and the bright-eyed ingenue formula, the author does enough to make this one still worth a look.
Abigail Weston and her sister Penelope are daughters of a wealthy man. The only problem here is that he is from trade. Still, there are men from the Ton who are willing to accept pretty wives that come with a big dowry, so their parents are hoping that Abigail and her sister would settle down with appropriately titled beaus one day. Thomas Weston decides that he needs to buy a country estate to improve the refined appearance of his family, so when the story opens, Abigail and her family find themselves moving in to the Hart House in Richmond-on-Thames. They can have parties, and, more importantly, invite eligible gentlemen to come meet the Weston sisters.
While Penelope is quickly bored of living in the country, Abigail soon finds herself fascinated by their reclusive neighbor. Sebastian Vane is a wounded war hero – yes, the leg thing again – who came home to find that his father had gone bonkers and, worse, sold nearly all their lands to a neighbor for practically nothing. The old man was also prone to violence during his crazy spells, and soon Sebastian was forced to keep the man under lock and key, ignoring the man’s cries to be put out of his misery during the man’s more lucid moments.
Six years ago, however, the old man escaped and simply vanished. Sebastian couldn’t inherit what little was left, as his father was never legally dead, and he was practically a bankrupt squatting in his own father’s place. Most people assumed that he killed his father and some even said that he stole a large amount of money from his neighbor – the man who bought most of Sebastian’s home, including the land where his mother was buried – at the same time. Nothing was ever proven, but Sebastian is practically a pariah since then, living on his own and avoiding people in general. Until, of course, Abigail decides that she wants to know all about him. In every way, please.
It’s a simple story, and the story takes place at a pretty brisk pace too, which in a way sort of weakens the emotional impact of the story as the emotions are nowhere as intense as I’d have liked them to be. Not that there is any lack of brooding melodrama here – Sebastian is an exquisite example of a man who should be paralyzed by self-pity, and I wouldn’t blame him if he moped and sighed now and then, but instead, he never stops fighting for a chance to be with Abigail. There is a heartbreaking kind of beauty in how he grasps at the slightest hope that he could have a chance at courting Abigail and make him his wife, and yet, as noble as he tries to be, he isn’t stupid and he doesn’t play the martyr. He knows Abigail is good for him, and yes, they all say that he isn’t good enough for him, but he will show them all that he is good enough for her. It’s like he’s taking on the world and every bullet in his chest just to be with Abigail, and the whole thing is so, so, so silly and romantic all at once. I love it, all of it.
Abigail is a less melodramatic character, and in many ways, I feel that the author could have developed Abigail’s character a bit more. I’m still not sure by the last page whether she’s in love with Sebastian as much as she’s in love with the idea of her love saving and redeeming the misunderstood angel that she has placed on a pedestal. Still, I love how her character complements Sebastian’s perfectly. When he’s weak, she’s the rock. When she’s carried away, he’s the one keeping her one foot on the sand. Everyone assumes Abigail to be the sensible foil to the more romantic Penelope, but in truth, both sisters are far more alike than even their parents suspect. Abigail is romantic enough to see Sebastian’s tattered reputation fascinating and romantic, but at the same time, she shows a degree of caution and discretion rarely found in many typically horny virginal heroines determined to lose their maidenhead to limping emo figureheads. She is smart enough to ensure that she knows what she is doing, and best of all, she is willing to take accountability for her actions. She wants to marry Sebastian, and she knows that he loves her. No silly “I’ll have sex with you but I won’t marry you because I know you don’t love me” nonsense here. In fact, I’d go as far as to say that this entire relationship is a subversion of that stupid trope.
It Takes a Scandal has an exquisite romance in its core, but while I do like it, especially how it takes a well-used fantasy and twists it around so that it still feels like something worth at least another visit, the story moves at a brisk pace and much of the emotional scenes feel truncated somehow. I love these scenes, but I think I would have loved it more if the scenes had been a little bit longer, if I am making sense here. Yes, perhaps if the author has spent more pages to show me more of these two’s quiet interactions together, this book would have worked better with me.
I managed to correctly guess what happened to Sebastian’s father and the events that led up to his escape right after the prologue ended, but that’s probably because I’m a cynical bat who has seen and read too many stories of this nature. Besides, the romance does work well enough for me to give this aspect of the story a pass.
I’ve read better books from this author, but at the same time, It Takes a Scandal is a better book than most I’ve read recently. It hits hard when it should, and there are moments where I thought I was having goosebumps from the beautiful overwrought passion of these two silly fools here. Oh, I’m such a fool for this kind of things.