PLEASE NOTE: this conversational review does contain some spoilers.
Jennie: I was one of many readers mightily impressed with Carolyn Jewel’s previous historical romance Scandal, which I read in January and graded an A-.
Janine: Totally with you on that. Scandal was one of the most impressive books I’ve read this year, and it’s stuck with me so much that I recently went back to my own review and raised the grade from an A- to an A-/A.
Jennie: I was very much looking forward to Indiscreet. While I had some problems with the second half of the story, overall, it did not disappoint.
Janine: Agreed again, although, as readers will see our opinions about what works in this book differ a bit more than they usually do.
Jennie: The book begins:
How everything started.
This incident took place at about two o’clock the morning of September 3, 1809. The location was the back parlor of a town house owned by the Duke of Buckingham but lived in by the Earl of Crosshaven on a ninety-nine-year lease, presently in its twenty-third year. It should be remarked that Lord Edward Marrack, the younger brother of the Marquess of Foye, was in attendance that night. Lord Edward had been something of a rake until his engagement to the daughter of a longtime family friend. The Earl of Crosshaven currently was a rake.
Several chapters start with this unconventional stage-setting device, and while it startled me at first, I found I rather liked it.
Janine: Although I liked the book very much, this device was one of the few things in it that did not work well for me. I was fine with it for the first chapter, but after that I often found these omniscient narration chapter openings distracting because I would get caught up in the action of the story and then would come a chapter break and this type of description and everything would come to a standstill. And often the information being given would be something I already knew, so it was frustrating — though not enough to seriously mar my enjoyment of the book.
Jennie: Hmm. Well, I think it worked for me for an unusual reason: it did take me out of the story (which is something I also don’t like, usually), but in a way that I found slyly amusing, a sort of wink and nod acknowledgement that it was just a story, after all.
I also liked the scene that follows this introduction, in part because I really wasn’t sure who the hero was or where the story was headed. The Earl of Crosshaven proceeds to boast that he has seduced Miss Sabine Goddard, a young lady recently come to town and one whose reputation had so far been spotless. Lord Marrack disapproves of his friend bandying the young woman’s name around; he doesn’t know her, but he does know that the boast will be all over town by the next day and that she is effectively ruined. His last thought is that her uncle, an eminent scholar who has recently been knighted (the reason for the Goddards’ presence in London), and Sabine’s guardian, will probably put her out on the street when he hears the story.
Janine: Yes, this was a very good scene and it intrigued me on multiple levels.
Jennie: Cut to a year and a half later, where the action has switched to Turkey. Lord Marrack has become the Marquess of Foye with the untimely death of his brother, and has fled England following the breaking-off of his engagement. He encounters the infamous Miss Goddard and her uncle at a party, and immediately finds himself drawn to her.
The scandal that Crosshaven’s lie produced has forced Sabine and her uncle, Sir Henry Goddard, to withdraw from English society, and they are traveling for a book Sir Henry is writing. Sabine acts as an assistant and to some degree a caretaker to her uncle, who is in poor health.
Contrary to Foye’s earlier speculation, Sir Henry Goddard did not turn his back on his niece after the scandal with Crosshaven erupted. However, Sabine is convinced that he does not believe her protestations of innocence, and indeed he does treat her interactions with men with suspicion. The affair has obviously strained their close relationship (Sabine’s parents died when she was very young; Sir Henry is the only real parent she has ever known).
Foye has been made cynical by the way his engagement ended. He is determined to marry an older, experienced woman if he marries at all; he’ll have no love match. His attraction to the young Miss Goddard (23 to his 38) is inconvenient for him, and he tries to fight it.
I know a lot of readers aren’t crazy about huge h/h age differences; honestly, in the past I’ve never been much bothered by them, and just as I began to get old enough to perhaps view them differently, they became a lot less common in romances. The age difference between Foye and Sabine in Indiscreet didn’t bother me, but the agonizing Foye does over it did annoy me. To be fair, I suppose that a hero that recognizes the potential problems and is concerned about them isn’t a bad thing. It’s just annoying because it’s not really a "problem" for which there is any resolution. He’s not going to get any younger, and she’s going to age at the same rate that he does. So the only resolution is for him to get over it, and the reader is aware of that from the start. Which makes any time spent on the issue feel like a bit too much.
Janine: I understand your perspective, but this didn’t bother me. I think I would have had a harder time with the fifteen-year age difference had it been presented as no problem whatsoever for either of the characters. As it was, the fact that Foye agonized over it made me like him better than I think I would have if he had been excited to have found himself a much younger woman.
Jennie: Yes, I’m not sure what sort of acknowledgement I would’ve preferred, because I think an acknowledgement was necessary. I just find that sometimes the more characters agonize over something that I know can’t really be overcome, the more annoyed I get. So I guess I prefer to have such agonizing be as succint as possible.
More interesting is Foye’s insecurity over his looks. He is not your typical breathtakingly handsome romance hero – his features are often described as "irregular", and he’s a big hulk of a man. He’s somewhat self-conscious about his lack of beauty, and tends to be vain about his dress, which I found a touching detail.
Janine: I liked that very much too. Just in general I loved Foye — more on that later.
Jennie: Sabine, of course, has also been burned (and has her own set of insecurities, chiefly about being very well educated; when she first came to London she discovered just how unusual her interests made her). The fact that Foye was a friend of Crosshaven’s does not make her at all inclined to think well of him. In fact, when they first meet, she is afraid that he intends to expose her to the circle of expatriates and British military officers she and her uncle socialize with, or that he may proposition her. Thus, she’s extremely wary about the interest Foye shows in her.
Janine: I loved the tension that resulted from that. Foye and Sabine both had this heightened awareness of one another that was delicious to read about.
Jennie: Yes, and I loved the fact that as a result, Sabine’s awareness wasn’t based on attraction, at first. I find it so rare in a romance that either the hero or the heroine isn’t immediately attracted, that every instance thrills me a bit.
Through a series of meetings Foye and Sabine do come to a wary sort of understanding, and eventually, love. Nevertheless, there remain some significant barriers to their HEA. This all occurs in the first half of the book. The ease with which those barriers were swept away made me realize how flimsy they were to start with. (Which is often the case in a romance, if you think about it. I see it as an author’s job to make me not think about it.)
The second half of the book shifts from the interpersonal conflict between Sabine and Foye to a conflict that is almost entirely external and action-based. I liked this section less. I do sometimes like action, especially when it’s well written. But the lack of hero/heroine conflict in this section and the abrupt shift from small and internal to large and external left the book feeling unbalanced. I think it may have worked better if the sections were switched – at times the story was vaguely reminiscent of Laura Kinsale’s The Dream Hunter – a book I love. That book has the big action-adventure part first, and then the story shifted to a smaller, more character-driven tale. Somehow this works better for me.
That’s not to say that there is no interpersonal conflict in the latter half of the book, but it’s mostly beneath the surface and focused on the hero and heroine’s doubts and insecurities. I think it’s tricky to write "does s/he really want and love me?" hand-wringing in such a way that it’s not tiresome, and I did occasionally find it tiresome in Indiscreet.
Janine: Thanks for the shout out to Kinsale’s fabulous The Dream Hunter. I do agree that the two books were a bit similar. As for the internal conflict in the second half, I loved the subtlety and complexity of it.
As mentioned before I loved Foye. I loved the way he transformed, or rather, showed another facet of his personality, in the second half of the book. Where he had been a thoughtful, even sensitive man, he also showed that when it was necessary for him to have a harder edge and do what was necessary to ensure his and Sabine’s survival, he could do that as well.
I felt that Sabine’s response to that was fascinating. While she was grateful, she also wasn’t sure she recognized him as the man she’d fallen in love with, and this made her uncertain of her feelings for him and his for her. Foye sensed her reaction, and what’s more, he was also torn between his desire for her and his need to protect her good name. I thought that all this added layers of complexity to the story and I enjoyed it very much.
Jennie: You make a good point, and it reminds me of something I’d forgotten that I did want to mention. I thought that Sabine’s reaction to being disguised as a boy was very interesting and well-done. Her observations about the freedoms her disguise allowed her, in spite of the fact that her male persona was in a much lower social position, were really compelling and thought-provoking.
Janine: Agreed. It also highlighted Sabine’s vulnerability and added tension to the story. So overall, I liked the contrast between the first half of the book and the second, after I got used to it. My main issue with the second half was that it made me think of a friend of mine. She is Lebanese-American as well as a romance reader, and she often finds it difficult to read romances set in the Middle East due to negative stereotypes. As much as I enjoyed Indiscreet myself, I would feel leery about recommending this book to her, because none of the Turkish characters were fleshed out, including the villain.
Jennie: Hmm. Well, I did not feel that most of the Turkish characters conformed to any negative Middle Eastern stereotypes that I’m aware of. That said, I agree that they were not fleshed out at all. The story (and most of the characterization) focused on Foye and Sabine, so it wasn’t quite so noticeable to me that there weren’t any fully realized native characters. Though I was a bit uneasy at the “white slaver” aspect of the villain’s character, because that does conform to some stereotypes in my mind. So I can understand you having qualms about recommending it to your friend.
To get back to my complaints about the second half of the book, I want to be clear that I’m not saying it’s bad by any means; it’s really not. I have a lamentable tendency when reviewing to expound at length on the negative, and I don’t want to ignore the positives of what was overall a very good book. Indiscreet features excellent prose, sympathetic and well-drawn characters (even the villainous Crosshaven is allowed a small measure of redemption in the end), and an unusual setting. It’s really only the pacing and arrangement of the plot that I have any real issue with (minor complaints about hand-wringing aside).
Janine: I didn’t have a problem with the arrangement of the plot at all. There were a couple of happenings in the last chapter of the book that raised questions in my mind but to go into them would involve revealing some big spoilers, so I’ll refrain. Suffice to say that I thought the ending felt a bit rushed.
I want to take a moment to appreciate Jewel’s prose. Few authors do a better job of conveying a character’s interior thoughts and emotional responses. Take for example this excerpt, from Foye and Sabine’s first conversation, when Sabine is telling Foye’s fortune based on a reading of what remains in his teacup.
“Lady Foye, perhaps?” she said in a sweet voice.
“No,” he said after too long a silence. “There is no Lady Foye.”
She looked up, interested more by his flat tone of voice than by his declaration of bachelorhood. He wasn’t looking at her. His attention was interior, on some deep and private pain. She hadn’t expected to see anguish, yet that was what she saw in his eyes, and her heart pinched a little on his behalf.
“Another woman, then,” she said. Looking at Lord Foye, with his irregularly put together face, was suddenly too intimate an experience. His eyes were too raw with loss. Had she inadvertently reminded him of a lost love? “Someone who will love you, my lord. Exactly as you deserve.”
Without thinking, she leaned forward, peering into his face. Foye’s gaze came back to the present. Their eyes locked, and with no warning, her breath caught in her throat. Her skin prickled up and down her body, all in pointed awareness of the man sitting across from her. He wasn’t handsome. He wasn’t at all. But Sabine’s heart beat hard against her ribs as if he were.
She leaned away, still struggling to get enough air into her lungs. She felt she had not moved soon enough, that she had unwittingly allowed an intimacy she would never permit in actual fact. A spark of fear settled in her chest because even with the distance between them, she remained lost in his eyes. Lost.
It was Foye who broke their gaze. “What else do the tea leaves predict?” he softly asked.
I think that’s just marvelous writing, the kind that makes me want to savor every word. There is such a smoothness to the language here and yet it doesn’t call attention to itself because it directs all of our attention to the characters and what they are feeling. The result is some powerful emotion in the reader. This is a writer at the top of her craft, which is why, caveats aside, I highly recommend this book.
Jennie:I agree with you about the gorgeousness of the prose (and about the rushed ending, alas). My grade for Indiscreet is a B+.
Janine: Mine is a B+/A-.
This book was provided to the reviewer by either the author or publisher. The reviewer did not pay for this book but received it free. The Amazon Affiliate link earns us a 6-7% affiliate fee if you purchase a book through the link (or anything for that matter) and the Sony link is in conjunction with the sponsorship deal we made for the year of 2009. We do not earn an affiliate fee from Sony through the book link.
ETA by Janine (in the way of FTC disclosure): I met Carolyn Jewel at RWA this past July and had the opportunity to tell her that I enjoyed Scandal.