IN GRITTY, WORKING-CLASS LONDON, SHE DOES WHAT SHE MUST TO SURVIVE...A Lady's Lesson in Scandal is my very first read by Meredith Duran. The plot is quite dramatic and Ms. Duran definitely went with gritty characters, setting and atmosphere when she wrote this romance. She achieved the gritty, but I had problems with the romance.
When Nell Whitby breaks into an earl's house on a midnight quest for revenge, she finds her pistol pointed at the wrong man—one handsome as sin and naked as the day he was born. Pity he's a lunatic. He thinks her a missing heiress, but more to the point, he'll help her escape the slums and right a grave injustice. Not a bad bargain. All she has to do is marry him.
A NOTORIOUS LADIES' MAN COULD TAKE HER FROM POVERTY TO OPULENCE... BUT AT WHAT PRICE?
A rake of the first order, Simon St. Maur spent his restless youth burning every bridge he crossed. When he inherits an earldom without a single penny attached to it, he sees a chance to start over—provided he can find an heiress to fund his efforts. But his wicked reputation means courtship will be difficult—until fate sends him the most notorious missing heiress in history. All he needs now is to make her into a lady and keep himself from making the only mistake that could ruin everything: falling in love....
Nell is a kidnapped heiress who is taken by her nanny and raised in the poorest of London's slums. Before her "mother" dies, she's told that her father is Lord Rushden and that if she needs help she should go to him. She writes asking for a few pounds to help her mother through her illness and never receives an answer. Once her mother dies, she decides to avenge her death by killing her father. Except that when she goes to Rushden's house to turn her plan into action, there's another Lord Rushden in his place and she finds out that her father is already dead.
The story then turns into a version of "My Fair Lady" in which Rushden decides to save the earldom by turning "guttersnipe" Nell into a lady, marrying her and claiming her fortune. They both agree to this plan, so its not as if Simon is not honest with her from the beginning. He is. However even though Nell agrees, she doesn't really believe when Rushden assures her that she's the missing heiress. Nell doesn't trust him, nor does she trust her own memories and she fights the change and the circumstances through to the end.
A Lady's Lesson in Scandal was a tough book to get through... I did finish it, but I struggled to do so. Why? Although the plot is rather involved, this is really a character driven story (which I usually love) and I never reached a point where most characters did anything for me personally. The male and female protagonists are developed, but the rest of the ensemble or secondary characters did not help them along. Although I don't usually have to like characters in order to enjoy a book, there has to come a point where I understand them and that is not the case here. In this case I also experienced a singular lack of empathy for the female protagonist and therefore felt no emotional connection, making this romance fall flat for me personally.
Nell is resentful and hostile for most of the story. That hostility and the fact that she resents everything and everyone around her oozes out of her pores to the point that even when she finally decides to give Simon a chance, I couldn't feel anything from her other than that. There was a meanness of spirit, the kind that comes from bitterness, about Nell that she never quite overcame, even when she supposedly fell in love with Simon. I found her lack of judgment abysmal and her cowardice matched her twin sister's, even as they were at opposite sides of the spectrum. Character growth for Nell was slow, painful and not enough.
Simon did have some of that important character growth. He wasn't necessarily the type of male protagonist that anyone would call a "hero" at the beginning of the story. However, Simon changes as the plot progresses and as his feelings for Nell grow, especially as he becomes aware of Nell's upbringing and the long-term results. His initial attraction for Nell is a bit incomprehensible, but later on Simon becomes a man who loves and loves well. He is honest and deserves to be admired even when he makes mistakes with Nell. He's the one redeemable character in this story.
The secondary characters on the other hand are mostly hateful and for the most part painted with a "black and white" palette, from the stepbrother and his wife, to the "villain" of the piece, to the twin sister. Gray areas for these characters are minimal or not there and true development is non-existent. None of them are redeemable characters even when an attempt is made to make some of them so, and most of them fall under the two dimensional category.
So why give this book an average C grade when I had so many problems with the characters and struggled to finish the book? Well, there are some aspects of this book that are undeniably good or excellent. Duran's prose is definitely one that's worth mentioning, and although I didn't connect with Nell's character and growth was slow to come for her, both she and Simon were developed characters. Plus the grittiness of the setting and the atmosphere are both excellent, and without a doubt Duran captures the grime, poverty and desperation of life in the London slums and the result that life had on its residents.
In the end A Lady's Lesson in Scandal was not a favorite read for me, at least it's not one that I'll be re-reading. However, there's definitely enough there to recommend it, and if you enjoy Ms. Duran's writing and her characterization this book is probably for you.
Category: Historical Romance
Publisher/Release Date: Pocketstar/June 28, 2011 - Kindle Edition
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