Mills & Boon, £4.99, ISBN 978-0-263-24809-8
Historical Romance, 2015
On the surface, Janice Preston’s Return of Scandal’s Son seems like a perfectly unobjectionable romance. It’s too faithful to the formula to be anything else – the elements here are tried and true, and even if the end result is on the unmemorable side, theoretically it should be fine. Theoretically, that is.
First, the story. Lady Eleanor Ashby’s family home recently burned down, most likely by that fellow seen sneaking out of the place when the fire started, and she barely escaped being turned into barbecued cliché by the arrival of her maid. When the story opens, she is in London to stay out of the way of the whole manor rebuilding thing, and she occasionally gets nightmares to remind me that she is a vulnerable heroine prone to screaming in her sleep. Also, she is determined to marry only for love, so a part of her – that part has been hurt by a guy in the past – is now convinced that she will never love. Anyway, shortly after the story opens, one of the horses of her carriage gets shot. Fortunately, our hero Matthew Thomas is here to save her.
This plot sounds like every other historical romance with a touch of suspense, doesn’t it? And in a way, it is just that. But this book drives me absolutely crazy because the characters never behave in any realistic manner. They are like switches – their feelings go from 0 to 1 and back again in a most unnatural manner. Eleanor is especially remarkable in that she has zero sense of self preservation. Her carriage tipped over? And she nearly gets run down by Matthew after that? Whatever, she’s more annoyed by the fact that Matthew takes charge over the situation. She has to be in control… even if he clearly knows what he is doing!
Bewilderingly, the author allows this behavior and yet has Eleanor be in the wrong. In other words, the author wants Eleanor to be wrong and hence, seem dumb in the process. Why? Is this some kind of weird “being a dummy in distress is romantic” thing?
Eleanor sometimes can be self aware, but she can also be hopelessly stupid at other moments. Her house got burned down, she was in a carriage accident shortly after… what, people suggest that they may be linked? No way, how can it be? It must be an accident, a coincidence, she would insist to a room full of eyerolls from people far more intelligent than her. Thus, she would keep very pertinent information from the hero all the way to close to the end, because, you know, everything must be a coincidence and surely that information of someone who has a grudge on her family can’t be important… even after all those subsequent moments of danger she finds herself after that carriage accident. If I am a superhero, I’d probably breathe fire on this book there and then. The hero’s reaction to that scene is to basically tell her, “WTF is wrong with you?” so remember, the author deliberately makes her heroine this way.
And also, Eleanor would insist that she’s an independent and feisty woman, and the hero agrees with her. So Miss I Almost Got Killed After Taking a Few Steps Down the Road can’t understand why people think she’s weak and need help. Miss I Can Never Imagine that I Am in Danger Even After So Many “Accidents” also doesn’t get why people think she needs rescuing. Miss Oops in Danger Again can take care of herself, isn’t that obvious? Given that the author actively puts the heroine in all these distressful moments, I wonder whether she’s just trolling her readers. No author can be so oblivious, right?
Matthew can be inconsistent too, but at least he’s competent most of the time. Eleanor is inconsistent and she’s frequently either wrong or just acting up like a twit that needs rescuing, so she makes Matthew look like such a great character in comparison.
At the end of the day, nobody in this story resembles any sane human being – oh, the heroine is in danger and barely escaped with her life, but the women with her only notice how hot the rescuer is, good lord – so Return of Scandal’s Son really needs a return to the drawing board. On paper, everything seems to be in its proper place, but once I think even a little about the way things are in this story, everything falls apart spectacularly.