Zebra, $3.99, ISBN 978-1-4201-0475-2
Historical Romance, 2008
What a Scoundrel Wants is interesting, fresh, and different from the usual medieval romances out there. Unfortunately, I don’t buy the romance between the main characters here and this is a big problem for me when it comes to appreciating this story.
Set a few years after Robin Hood and his Lady Marian have wed, England is not exactly a safe and happy place yet. Robin is in France, the Sheriff of Nottingham is still running around sneering and bullying people, and in this story, some folks have taken to retreating into the woods again despite having no champion to lead or defend them. Worse, Will Scarlet is now an agent of the Sheriff of Nottingham. What is going on here? Well, you will have to read the story to find out, heh. Our heroine is Meg of Keyworth, a blind lady whose skill in alchemy is considerable. While she is chasing after her sister about some emeralds – it’s a long story, don’t ask – she happens to be at the wrong place at the wrong time. When Will finds himself framed for the murder of a nobleman, she finds her fate intertwined with his.
Well, that’s a very basic summary of this story because I don’t want to give away too much of the surprises the author has in store for the reader. Indeed, this story does succeed in a way to provide another look at the folklore of Robin Hood and his Merry Men. The pacing is good, the writing is fine, and the characterization is done with a deft hand that is often too polished for a debut author. In a way, I have a good time reading this book, if only because I like discovering new authors whose works I can really enjoy in the future.
The romance doesn’t work for me, though. Oh, I’m not complaining about Will. He’s a pretty bad boy here, but then again, I read Anne Stuart’s romance novels and I have lived through Meagan McKinney’s historical romances to tell the tale, and trust me, compared to the magnitude of the… attitude, let’s just say, of some of the heroes in those books, Will Scarlet is a mere kid in diapers. However, I find it rather unnerving that the only moment he displays some degree of tenderness towards Meg is when she is injured or being accosted by villains. When things are peaceful, he’s being… not very nice to her, let’s just say. Then again, we are talking about a guy who happily abandons a blind woman in the middle of a forest early in the story and it is Meg who initiates the first sexual encounter, so I really shouldn’t be too surprised at Will’s behavior. He is too good at being the asshole despite his protests to the contrary, so this is one guy who thinks he’s a Laura Kinsale darling when he’s actually more of a Meagan McKinney’s donkey hero hall of fame material.
Meg is a capable heroine, but in this story she is a victim despite her admirable attitude in not succumbing to martyrdom and such. This is a nice plot device to keep Will coming back to her side and rescuing her, and in the process show some gallantry, but I can’t overlook the fact that for way too long in this story the author is so focused on pitting Meg against Will and the world, or Will against the world, that there is hardly any moment where Will and Meg can convincingly fall in love with each other. They have sex, yes, but even then, the aftermath of each sex scene has Meg filled with disquieting feelings from guilt to self-loathing to disappointment at not being able to resist Will, so these scenes are not exactly romance-affirming moments.
As a story, What a Scoundrel Wants is an interesting read. As a romance, well… I’ll take a rain check on this one. Ask me again after I’ve read the author’s next book.