I have owned a print copy for over a decade, and yet I’ve avoided reading it, afraid I would not like it, let alone love it, the way most romance readers do. And then where would I be? The outcast in the cold, the one person who didn’t appreciate the wonderful thing that Lord of Scoundrels is.
But this year I’m determined to trim the insurmountable and imposing print TBR Mountain Range, and with this month’s TBR Challenge being something recommended to me–and honestly, who hasn’t recommended Lord of Scoundrels within my hearing/reading?–I decided to bite the bullet.
I could kick myself senseless–why, why, why, did I wait this long?
With a hat tip to SLWendy, to Carolyn and to Lori, and so many other romance readers, here’s my review.
Lord of Scoundrels, by Loretta Chase
Before anything else, allow me to point out that this book was first released in 1994. Many people think of romances written in the nineties as texts full of purple prose, with stuttering, virginal heroines who toss their heads a lot while being pretty much useless. And for historical romances, just dress the TSTL-blonde-horror-movie heroine in a corset, yet have her behave the same, and you are set.
I cannot begin to tell you how gloriously not like that, in any respect, Jessica Trent is. She is the complete opposite of the airhead-ninny Regency miss. Jessica knows what she wants for her future, and as the novel starts she has been taking steps to achieve it.
But I’m getting ahead of myself. Here’s the blurb, from my print copy:
Tough-minded Jessica Trent’s sole intention is to free her nitwit brother from the destructive influence of Sebastian Ballister, the notorious Marquess of Dain. She never expects to desire the arrogant, amoral cad. And when Dain’s reciprocal passion places them in a scandalously compromising, and public, position, Jessica is left with no choice but to seek satisfaction.
Lord of Scoundrels…
Damn the minx for tempting him, kissing him…and then forcing him to salvage her reputation! Lord Dain can’t wait to put the infuriating bluestocking in her place–and in some amorous position. And if that means marriage, so be it!–though Sebastian is less than certain he can continue to remain aloof…and steel his heart to the sensuous, headstrong lady’s considerable charms.
The novel starts with a fourteen page prologue detailing the harsh early life of one Sebastian Ballister, only surviving son of the third Marquess of Dain. It is the events set forth here that explain quite a bit of what happens in the rest of the book, and he or she who skips these pages does so at their own peril.
As an aside: a well written prologue is such a wonderful thing. It takes no small amount of talent to condense the first three or so decades of someone’s life in a dozen or so pages, and to thoroughly convey how key events affect personality for life. I wish, how I wish! more authors publishing currently would do prologues. And hey, if word count is a problem, skip the freaking epilogue!
(I’m so helpful, aren’t I?)
Anyway, on to the review.
Dain had a pretty miserable childhood, what with his mother running away with a lover, and his father pretty much hating the sight of him. So while as he grew older he became savvy in the world of business, and learned in history, the classics, languages and art, he remains emotionally stunted. His interactions with women have, from an early age, been mercenary in nature–from early adolescence, he’s hired whores. Straightforward transactions, no fuss no muss.
The only time Dain, as a wealthy and titled young man, got entangled with a respectable woman, it turned out badly. The young miss in question, with the wholehearted approval and actual help of her entire family, had set out to force him into marriage.
Let’s just say that things didn’t happen as planned. Which brings us to Dain, living in Paris and associating only with bachelors, debauched married men, and whores.
And one rather innocuous, if bothersome, gentleman.
Bertie Trent is pretty much an idiot. Younger brother to Jessica by a couple of years, technically he is head of the house, though she’s well past her majority and therefore blessedly free of his interference in her affairs. Unfortunately, she still feels somewhat responsible for his well being, and so when his loyal manservant writes to her about the predicament Bertie is currently in, off to Paris Jessica and Genevieve, their lovely grandmother, go.
Jessica is a wonderful character. She’s self sufficient and self reliant. She grew up much as the unpaid nanny/sitter to a number of male cousins, and at this point is not particularly tempted to give any man power over her. Thanks, but not thanks.
As she is not inclined to marry and since there is no family money to speak of, Jessica has to find an alternative way to make money. Here’s where a peculiar little talent of hers comes in. Jessica has a knack for finding forgotten treasures among what most other people consider rubbish. When you pay pennies for something and then sell it for pounds, you can make a living. The trick here is that she must be able to continue moving within polite society, where most of her clients are bound to come from.
When Jessica and Dain meet, shortly after her arriving in Paris, there are instant sparks. They both find each other physically attractive indeed, but beyond their looks, they are mutually intrigued by their personality. She’s not at all like the virginal, sheltered misses Dain remembers–hell, their first verbal sparring is over a pocket watch that depicts cunnilingus.
Which Jessica is buying as a birthday gift for her grandmother.
(Another aside: I loved my grandmother very much, but if I could have had another, I would totally grab Genevieve for my very own.)
He seeks to embarrass Jess by showing her the hidden image, while she’s keen on buying it because of said image. Things just gets more delicious from there on.
With each interaction, each time they dare each other–“I should like to see you try!” has become a favorite phrase–their attraction strengthens.
Which pleases neither of them. Jessica knows that desire for Dain will not net her the independence she seeks, and could indeed ruin her. Dain considers respectable women just as mercenary as whores, only with many more ways to make a man miserable than the latter. Therefore, his increasing attraction to Jessica is more than merely inconvenient, it’s downright dangerous.
Eventually, not so good things come to pass, and Dain, reacting very very poorly indeed, does something pretty despicable.¹ He leaves Jessica in quite the compromised position, with plenty of chatty witnesses. It’s noteworthy that this is a kneejerk reaction caused by his own baggage and not something Dain planned.
Jessica does not know either of these things, so…she shoots him. In cold blood, knowing she won’t kill him or injure an innocent bystander, she shoots him.
Yes, you read right. She goes home, changes, grabs her pistol–she’s a crack shot–hunts him down at a public venue, and cool as a cucumber, shoots him.
And the crowd goes wild!
Or at least, this reader.
Because Jessica has it all planned. She shoots him in order to force his hand, with the help of a savvy French lawyer. See, Jessica doesn’t mind being ruined per se–though she may or may not regret the lack of actual sex in her ruination. Her real problem is that now her future livelihood has gone up in smoke. From where she stands–and I, reader, right along with her–Dain owes her a living.
He agrees…after a fashion. Which leads to marriage, and things only get better from there on.
I cannot stress enough how wonderful this book is.
The sexual tension is absolutely delicious, and the sex scenes themselves so strongly written. They are graphic enough–no closed doors here–yet there’s no purple prose to be seen. They are not awkward or mock-worthy in any way, and they manage to convey the evolution of the relationship between Jessica and Dain.
The sex here matters.
And both characters are so well written. Jessica is definitely pretty much the grown up at the beginning, on the emotional sense, and yet she also changes as she realizes that lust and attraction have become liking have become caring have become love.
But Dain, oh Dain! He is absolutely wonderful. So self assured in some areas, so absolutely lost at sea in others. Watching him try to understand what is going on, trying to grasp what his feelings are, what they mean…
I turned the last page and kept thinking about it, and thinking about all the different characters, and how even those with very little actual page space are not just cartoons, put there to serve the plot. This is particularly true of those secondary characters with dialogue, but I think it holds true of all.
The closest Ms Chase comes to two dimensional characters is with Dain’s father–and even there, I’ve seen shades of this in real living, breathing people–and a secondary, minor villain (whose identity is revealed very late in the story).
Lord of Scoundrels absolutely deserves its place in so many ‘best of romance’ lists. 10 out of 10
~ * ~
¹ At least one reader stopped reading then and there, which is as valid a reaction as any other. However, should any of my gentle readers feel inclined to do so, I would ask them to backtrack a little, and re-read Dain’s memories of Suzanna…and then, give the rest of the story a try.