Avon, $7.99. ISBN 978-0-06-224492-5
Historical Romance, 2015
Love in the Time of Scandal features a secondary character in a previous book who functioned as some kind of lesser villain of sorts, a foil to the hero of that book. While I feel that this book can stand alone, reading the previous book may help to make it easier to follow this one, as there are quite a number of references to events in the previous book. Not to mention, the relationship between that character, Benedict Lennox, and our heroine, Penelope Weston, also took root in the previous book. Penelope is the sister of the heroine of the previous book, while Benedict, Lord Atherton, was the unsuccessful suitor of Abigail in that book.
After the events of the previous book, Penelope and Atherton have some kind of cold war going on. He tries to go out of his way to avoid her, while she has no problems berating him for all kinds of sins she believes and imagines that he is responsible from. This is where I feel that the author has made a big misstep. By taking a leaf out of Sabrina Jeffries’s handbook of shrewish heroines and turning Penelope into a shrill, scolding creature with little patience for anyone and anything that does not fit her narrow viewpoint and have this same heroine to be mostly wrong from start to finish, the author ends up making the poor dear more unlikable than she should be.
Back to the story, Atherton is a man of his time. As an heir to a title, he feels that it is time for him to settle down. While he believes that love is hardly necessary in a marriage among members of the Ton – just look at the people around him, after all – he’d like to find a wife whose company he wouldn’t mind at all. That way, he and she can have a pleasant marriage without the inconveniences of finding lovers and having to deal with all the drama that comes with such arrangements. He sets his eyes this time around on a sweet, attractive, and from all appearances a most affable and unobjectionable young lady. Unfortunately, this lady looks up to Penelope and listens to every word Penelope says.
When Penelope ends up saying some things that she shouldn’t about Benedict to that lady, it sets in motion a series of unfortunate coincidental events that forces her and Atherton to end up husband and wife, mostly to protect her reputation. But with so many things between them, finding a common ground to make a happily ever after for themselves is not going to be easy.
Atherton sounds reasonable, doesn’t he? Even better – he’s the rare example of a male abuse victim in a romance novel. His father terrorized his family and Atherton bore the brunt of his physical and psychological savagery, often to protect his sisters from that man. Even now, as an adult, Atherton wants so desperately to be free from that man. And yet, all that monster has to do is to look his way, and Atherton is a young boy again, scared and helpless while waiting for the inevitable whipping over even the slightest infarction.
Meanwhile, Penelope can’t understand why Atherton can’t stand up to his father, wah wah wah. He’s such a bad person for wanting a marriage without love, wah wah wah. He thinks it’s silly to get involved in a duel for a woman, wah wah wah. Make her nag and scold her husband for all these things, while showing little willingness to listen or even understand where he is coming from, and I have a story where the hero comes off like an unfortunate woobie at the expense of the heroine, who appears to be quite the painful shrew to follow. Their characterizations are not balanced at all. He is a more complicated and sympathetic character, she is the more one-dimensional “I will never marry without love, even if it costs me everything I hold dear!” spoiled and petulant drama queen with a very immature black-and-white way of looking at the world: it’s her way or the highway. By the last page, Penelope doesn’t seem to grow up enough to get me to appreciate her character, although I do like her efforts to stand up to Atherton’s father on his behalf.
I don’t dislike Penelope that much, mind you. I get from reading this story that the author deliberately creates that heroine to be that way, and, I don’t know, perhaps the heroine is meant to grow on me. Honestly, Penelope almost did – I do find at several instances while reading this story that her idealistic and naïve way of looking at life can be a great complement to Atherton’s more wounded and disturbed psyche underneath his cool as cucumber exterior. Her idealism gives her the courage to stand up against the things he is scared of, and, even if she can be an insecure dingbat all paranoid over her place in his life because of him not being the perfect dream boyfriend of her imagination, she is willing to fight to the end for him. He needs such a person in his life, and on his part, he has the patience to deal with her nonsense as well as the appreciation of the very traits in her that most people would consider flaws. In many ways, they are the perfect couple.
It’s just that the author decides to plunge the story into a mystery after the wedding, giving rise to more secrets and drama that get in the way of the two characters having the time to know one another. By the end of the book, I feel that these two barely know one another. A part of me thinks that they get along well enough, so they will most likely be good for one another and things will be great for them in the long run. But I’d prefer to have a little more certainty in my romance stories. The relationship here never feels as complete as the mystery by the last page, and this is a problem because the mystery does not have a good closure here at all. (I’m assuming that the closure will be had in the next book in the series.) Also, as I’ve mentioned, Penelope always feels less developed as a character compared to Atherton.
At the end of the day, this story is more about the main characters grappling with the insidious ways of a true monster (Atherton’s father) than a well-rounded romance, and even then, the villain is so one-dimensional in his hateful ways that he is actually a dull character, no better than a typical bad guy in a cartoon who is evil just because he can. While I’m sure there are such people in real life, they never make for interesting reading. Thus, Love in the Time of Scandal is actually about two poor sods writhing and grappling with issues because their strings are pulled by a puddle-deep psycho when they are not going through the same old “Oh, does he love me? I would really die if he doesn’t tell me he does!” drama that affects every other historical romance of similar setting. I never have much fun reading this, what a pity.