Romance, Historical, Contemporary, Paranormal, Young Adult, Book reviews, industry news, and commentary from a reader's point of view

REVIEW: Scandal by Carolyn Jewel

Dear Ms. Jewel,

042522551801lzzzzzzz1Scandal is the first book of yours I have read, but it won’t be the last.

The book begins when Gwilym, Earl of Banallt, arrives at Havenwood in autumn of 1814. Banallt is a guest of John Mercer, who does not realize that his widowed sister Sophie has a previous acquaintance with Banallt.

When she was only seventeen, Sophie ran off with a fortune hunter and married him over the anvil at Gretna Green. It created a scandal, and Sophie was cut off by her family. It was during the years of her marriage that Sophie became acquainted with Banallt.

It is clear from the very beginning that although he has not seen her in two years, Banallt had strong feelings for Sophie. He hopes that seeing her will confirm his hopes that those feelings are now dead and gone. Banallt, who was also married when he first met Sophie, is now widowed and needs to marry again soon in order to continue his line.

But when he sees Sophie, Banallt realizes that his feelings for her are still alive and acute. Acting on a powerful instinct, Banallt asks Sophie to marry him. But Sophie refuses.

Sophie’s marriage was an unhappy one. Her husband cheated on her constantly, drank and caroused and wasted her dowry. Sophie lived separately from her husband in the country, and took refuge in the novels that she secretly wrote and sold in order to supplement her meager income.

Banallt was a friend of Sophie’s late husband, and despite the fact that he was married at the time, he was also a rake. Sophie and Banallt met when Sophie’s husband brought his friend to his country home. After his first attempt to proposition Sophie failed, Banallt became her friend. Their platonic relationship was a comfort to Sophie, until the day Banallt did something (what it was isn’t revealed until the end of the book) that brought an end to their friendship.

Now Banallt knows he should forget about Sophie, but he simply cannot. When they meet again in London, they are pulled toward one another. Banallt wants to prove to Sophie that he is no longer a rake. Sophie tells herself that she doesn’t want anything to do with Banallt, but the truth is more complicated than that. She is afraid to trust again, afraid that she will be as devastated as she was in her marriage to her husband.

In London, Sophie is pursued by two other gentlemen. Her brother’s mentor, the older Duke of Vedaelin, and Reginald Tallboys, a younger man. I appreciated that neither of these man was portrayed as a villain simply because he was competition for Banallt. Instead, they were both good men who simply didn’t engender the same feelings in Sophie that Banallt did.

There are two interesting subplots. One is about Miss Fidelia Llewellyn, Banallt’s goddaughter, and Sophie’s brother John, who love each other but face the obstacles of Fidelia’s disapproving father and the fact that their marrying would make Sophie and Banallt relatives. The second involves the young Miss George who is pursued by a fortune hunter who reminds Sophie of her late husband Tommy.

A bit past halfway through the book, there was a major plot twist that I didn’t see coming at all. I won’t reveal what it was, but I liked how bold and unexpected it was.

The characterization in this book was also quite good. Banallt’s love for Sophie and his need to prove himself to her was very compelling, as were Sophie’s conflicted feelings for Banallt and her fear that if she gave him the opportunity to do so, he would break her heart.

The story reminded me a bit of some of Mary Balogh’s earlier works, because like those, it was an emotional tale that sometimes put the characters through painful situations, and as in those books, readers are given a window into the characters’ thought process.

When Sophie and Banallt finally made love, those scenes were loaded with emotion and very erotic. In a comment on her review here, Jennie said:

Really, if I were to compare this book to food, it would be a classic dish, well-executed. The sort of dish that makes you realize how it got to be a classic in the first place.

I couldn’t agree more. I loved the smoothness and elegant simplicity of your writing. There was a seamless quality to it that, along with the emotional aspects of the story, made the book wholly absorbing, and I stayed up until 3 AM in the morning to finish reading it.

My only major reservation is that I would have liked to know more about Banallt’s first wife and his marriage to her. Had she loved him? Had his infidelities hurt her? Were they very young when they married? Did she remain faithful to him while he strayed? I may be wrong, but I don’t think it was even mentioned how she died, or what her name was.

Since there was so much information given about Sophie’s marriage to Tommy, the absence of information about Banallt’s marriage to his wife seemed odd by contrast. I would really have liked to know more about her, and about Banallt’s past.

Besides that I have a couple of very minor quibbles. I would have liked for it to be explained why the duke had sent Sophie flowers and seemed smitten with her before he ever met her, and I was jarred when Tallboys (toward the end of the book) tells Sophie that he had no idea about John and Fidelia’s feelings for one another, when, in an earlier scene, he was the one to tell her that the two were in love.

On the whole though, I felt that these were minor bumps in an otherwise smooth ride, and I found Scandal very rewarding. Thank you for writing such an absorbing, rich and emotional book. It was a journey well worth taking. A-/A.

Sincerely,

Janine

This book can be purchased in mass market from Amazon or ebook format from the Sony Store and other etailers.

Janine Ballard loves well-paced, character driven novels in historical romance, fantasy, YA, and the occasional outlier genre. Recent examples include novels by Katherine Addison, Meljean Brook, Kristin Cashore, Cecilia Grant, Rachel Hartman, Ann Leckie, Jeannie Lin, Rose Lerner, Courtney Milan, Miranda Neville, and Nalini Singh. Janine also writes fiction. Her critique partners are Sherry Thomas, Meredith Duran and Bettie Sharpe. Her erotic short story, “Kiss of Life,” appears in the Berkley anthology AGONY/ECSTASY under the pen name Lily Daniels. You can email Janine at janineballard at gmail dot com or find her on Twitter @janine_ballard.

22 Comments

  1. Stephanie
    Mar 20, 2009 @ 12:14:42

    This is the first Carolyn Jewel I’ve ever read as well, and I think it was very well-written. I’m not a big fan of rakes and tend to regard Reformed Rake stories with a degree of skepticism: the author really has to sell it for me to buy it. That said, I think Jewel did a decent job of convincing me that Banallt had turned over a new leaf and intended to be faithful to the woman he loved if he could convince her to marry him.

    However, I was also bewildered by the lack of information about his first marriage, and troubled by the ease with which Banallt cheated on his wife, whom he claimed to love. And if Banallt was so affected by how Sophie suffered over Tommy’s infidelities, why did it not occur to him that he might be hurting his own wife just as much? (And maybe try to be a better husband?) I felt as if a big chunk of story–or at least, character insight–was missing, and it would be enough to make me grade this story a “B” rather than an “A.”

    On another subject, I thought Jewel did a very effective job in depicting how powerless women were in the eyes of the law, especially when it came to matters of marriage and money. So effective that I started to feel oppressed on Sophie’s behalf when events conspired to leave her destitute and dependent.

  2. Lorelie
    Mar 20, 2009 @ 12:33:13

    Apologies if this is a repost, but my first try seems to have been eaten:

    I had been on the fence about this one after having a strange time with Jewel’s My Wicked Enemy. It had many things I hated with a passion, yet the day I forgot the book when I went to work I absolutely scrambled for it when I got in the door that night. But I cannot read another glowing review for this one without having read it. So I’m off to order.

  3. katiebabs
    Mar 20, 2009 @ 13:02:03

    I was so blown away by this story. So rich and very rewarding.

  4. SonomaLass
    Mar 20, 2009 @ 13:08:06

    I loved this book. The way she intertwines past and present in her narrative works really well for me, because it juxtaposes the characters (Sophie in particular) at different times in their lives and lets you see how and why they have changed and yet how certain aspects of their personalities remain constant. Also, the plot actually kept me guessing and surprised me several times; too many romances are predictable in how they will reach the HEA, but Scandal wasn’t like that for me. It had the right “angst” level for me, too — nothing really awful (child abuse, domestic violence, brutal murder), but plenty of challenges for Sophie to meet and defeat.

  5. Janine
    Mar 20, 2009 @ 13:30:24

    Stephanie

    However, I was also bewildered by the lack of information about his first marriage, and troubled by the ease with which Banallt cheated on his wife, whom he claimed to love.

    At the beginning of the book, before Banallt proposes to Sophie, he says he doesn’t intend to marry the wrong woman again. That implies that he felt his wife was wrong for him, but I too would have liked a little more insight into why they were incompatible. I think Banallt’s statement that he loves his wife may be there to show that at that point in the flashback story, he doesn’t yet understand the true meaning of the word love.

    And if Banallt was so affected by how Sophie suffered over Tommy's infidelities, why did it not occur to him that he might be hurting his own wife just as much? (And maybe try to be a better husband?)

    Of course, Jewel doesn’t tell us, but I thought that it was possible the wife was not in love with Banallt the way Sophie was with Tommy, or at least, not in a long-lasting way. It was even possible that Banallt’s wife had affairs of her own. We are given very little to go on. Sophie thinks the wife was hurt but that could easily be a projection of Sophie’s own feelings about Tommy. Because she knows she would feel hurt, she may make a similar assumption about Banallt’s wife, even if it isn’t true. Though of course, it could be true, too — we just don’t know.

    I felt as if a big chunk of story-or at least, character insight-was missing, and it would be enough to make me grade this story a “B” rather than an “A.”

    For me, this wasn’t enough to detract from the emotional satisfaction the story gave me.

    Katiebabs — I was pretty blown away too.

    SonomaLass — I so agree with you about it having the right level of angst, and about the surprising nature of the plot.

  6. Moth
    Mar 20, 2009 @ 15:04:22

    Since there was so much information given about Sophie's marriage to Tommy, the absence of information about Banallt's marriage to his wife seemed odd by contrast.

    I thought this too. It seemed a strange choice. And he says he loved his wife, but we don’t ever come to understand why he cheats on her so much. I thought that was kind of a plot hole.

    A bit past halfway through the book, there was a major plot twist that I didn't see coming at all. I won't reveal what it was, but I liked how bold and unexpected it was.

    if you mean the one I think you mean I didn’t see it coming either but I had a totally different reaction: I absolutely hated it and I thought it totally changed the whole tone of the book and made me like the entire book much less. i also hated the way Banallt broke the news. I was like, “Dude, pull the band aid off already and just tell her! You’re only making it worse.”

    I also must say I just got very sick of Sophy by the end. I didn’t buy that she wouldn’t seek out Banallt’s help, especially when she was clinging to him so closely immediately after the previously mentioned Plot Twist. Why would she suddenly push him away? So she can stay with her miserable relatives? Um…why? she just seemed to still not trust him long after she should have gotten over it and to me that felt more like the author wanting to prolong the conflict rather than an organic, believable action of the character.

    Oh, and I thought the whole set-up around her finally accepting his proposal was written really clumsily. (Don’t have the book in front of my unfortunately but…) Where he says “Don’t be a fool, Sophy.” and then we cut back X number of years to his big fuck-up which also concludes with him saying, “Don’t be a fool, Sophy.” And then we’re back in the present and he’s like, “OMG! She said yes!” I had to reread that part three times because I thought I’d missed the part where she said yes. But no, Jewell didn’t write it. She just skips a few (integral!) moments in between the flashback.

    Overall, though, I will admit the characters were engaging, the premise was interesting and it was mostly well-written. In the end I think Jewel just isn’t my cuppa.

  7. Susan/DC
    Mar 20, 2009 @ 15:56:47

    It had the right “angst” level for me, too -’ nothing really awful (child abuse, domestic violence, brutal murder), but plenty of challenges for Sophie to meet and defeat.

    I have to say I disagree with this statement — what happened in the book (the spoiler everyone keeps tiptoeing around) was really awful. I’m with Moth in that I think it completely changed the tone of the book.

    However, unlike Moth I liked the book a great deal and think Jewel is a compelling writer. I can list the flaws in her books fairly easily (e.g., in Scandal I think we didn’t see enough of Sophie’s interactions with Vendaelin and Reggie to understand exactly why they fell in love with her), but the flaws pale in comparison to how vivid her characterizations are. She made me care about these people and believe in them as three-dimensional characters. I think her historical writing just keeps getting better.

  8. SonomaLass
    Mar 20, 2009 @ 16:18:07

    @Janine: if you are looking for another Jewel to try, I recommend The Spare. I think it is my secret favorite.

  9. Jennie
    Mar 20, 2009 @ 18:13:34

    Janine, I’m so glad this book worked for you as well as it did for me. As you know, I also had issues with the lack of info on Banallt’s past – not just his relationship with his first wife, but the fact that he seemed like such a wild wastrel when he first met Sophie. I kind of wanted to understand why. Ultimately, a little more development there might’ve pushed the book into straight A territory for me, but as it was I enjoyed it quite a bit.

  10. Jane A
    Mar 20, 2009 @ 20:17:54

    -’ what happened in the book (the spoiler everyone keeps tiptoeing around) was really awful. I'm with Moth in that I think it completely changed the tone of the book.

    I think it was pretty awful, too, and I had trouble with it. In fact, I had trouble with that relationship, we were thrown some very vague clues (at least IMO) about how they felt about each other. It typified most of the relationships in the book except for that of Sophie and Banallt. For example, we’re given snippets of info about Sophie and the Duke and Tallboy, but as someone pointed out, we don’t see why Sophie was so sought after by them. It didn’t feel fleshed out to me, and I was left puzzled a great deal of the time. I did enjoy Banallt and Sophie, though, so for me this book was a B or maybe B-.

  11. GrowlyCub
    Mar 21, 2009 @ 06:46:52

    I really liked this book, even though I agree that there was a decided lack in explaining Banallt’s relationship with his wife. Especially the bit about his having loved her while merrily cheating on her upside down and sideways.

    Since the book has been rewritten several times I wonder if
    either
    a) some stuff was cut due to word count (my favorite culprit lately)
    or
    b) those motivations and backstory were so obvious to the author and beta-readers who saw the different versions of the book that it wasn’t obvious that there wasn’t enough info there for readers who came to it without having experienced the earlier versions.

    I was lucky finally yesterday and found a copy of ‘Lord Ruin’ and also of ‘Stolen Love’. Looking forward to reading these and also to the new book that’s scheduled for October 2009.

  12. Janine
    Mar 21, 2009 @ 15:40:03

    Lorelie – I missed your post earlier; I think it must have gone into the spam filter and was later fished out. Anyhow, I recently read My Wicked Enemy. I liked it, but didn’t love it the way I did Scandal. They are very different books IMO. I would be interested to hear what you think of Scandal, so if you want to post your thoughts on it when you read it, that would be great.

    Moth – My reaction to the unexpected plot twist was the opposite of yours — I loved that I didn’t see it coming and that it had such a strong emotional impact on me. But then I often enjoy it when characters are faced with difficult and painful situations. The way Banallt handled things didn’t bother me because I felt he was too caught up in his own emotions to be able to handle it better.

    I loved Sophie and had no trouble buying her resistance to Banallt even near the end. It was all about her fear, which I think the big plot twist fueled. I don’t want to say more about that because I’m afraid of spoiling for readers who haven’t read the book.

    I don’t remember being bothered by the way the proposal scene was handled, either.

    I had such deep empathy for Sophie and I was so moved by her conflicted feelings. I emailed Jane afterwards to say that I thought it was interesting that she had said (in one of her posts here) that the book was all about it’s hero, because for me, I was actually more invested in Sophie than in Banallt. It was Sophie’s conflict between not wanting to hurt again and her feelings for Banallt that drove the story IMO.

    But then, do stories in which the hero gets rejected over and over again and the heroine resists falling in love for a long time. I don’t know why, but these resonate very deeply with me.

  13. Janine
    Mar 21, 2009 @ 15:56:25

    Susan/DC

    I have to say I disagree with this statement -’ what happened in the book (the spoiler everyone keeps tiptoeing around) was really awful. I'm with Moth in that I think it completely changed the tone of the book.

    I think what happened was very powerful, a real gut punch. When I was agreeing with SonomaLass that it wasn’t awful, I was responding to the sense that I got from her examples of “child abuse, domestic violence, brual murder.” All of those are very grim things that can make me feel depressed when I read (which doesn’t mean that I’m unwilling to read about them) whereas what happened here, while awful for one of the characters, didn’t seem grim or bleak to me.

    I agree that it did change the tone of the book but for me this change elevated the book to even greater heights. I loved the way this echoes real life, where profound changes can very suddenly overtake us. I loved that it came about in such an unexpected way.

    I agree that Jewel’s characterizations are vivid and I found the book emotionally intense. I also agree that the duke and Tallboys fell in love with Sophie a bit inexplicably. I loved that Banallt’s competition was actually made up of good guys, though. For me, too, the flaws in the book paled in comparison to its strengths.

    SonomaLass — Thanks for the recommendation.

    Jennie — You know, it was your recommendation and Jane’s that got me to read the book, so thanks!

    Jane A – I do agree that the secondary relationships in this book weren’t as developed as they could have been. There are times when I really miss a long, juicy, historical with more than one well-developed romance in it, but those seem to be scarce these days. In this case though, Sophie and Banallt’s relationsip packed such a gut punch for me that for the most part I was willing to overlook the fact that the other relationships were sketchy.

  14. Janine
    Mar 21, 2009 @ 16:11:00

    GrowlyCub,

    Since the book has been rewritten several times I wonder if
    either
    a) some stuff was cut due to word count (my favorite culprit lately)
    or
    b) those motivations and backstory were so obvious to the author and beta-readers who saw the different versions of the book that it wasn't obvious that there wasn't enough info there for readers who came to it without having experienced the earlier versions.

    Those possiblities occured to me too, as well as a third possiblity. I wonder if maybe the author felt that if she went into more detail about Banallt’s motivation for his infidelities, it would just emphasize those infidelities in the readers’s consciousness, and that it might therefore (in the reader’s mind) substantiate Sophie’s concerns that Banallt was incapable of fidelity.

    IOW, perhpas the the author felt that it was better that we be left not knowing everything, than that we know all the details but question Banallt’s ability to be faithful. But of course, that is pure speculation on my part — I can’t know what the author’s considerations were.

  15. Moth
    Mar 21, 2009 @ 20:46:26

    Banallt's motivation for his infidelities, it would just emphasize those infidelities in the readers's consciousness, and that it might therefore (in the reader's mind) substantiate Sophie's concerns that Banallt was incapable of fidelity.

    That’s the way it feels to me, Janine. Like Jewell wanted the rake-i-ness to be part of his backstory but Jewel didn’t want to dig into it too deeply. I think if readers had gotten more information about his wife’s reactions and feelings, and why he did it (besides his enjoyment of sex) some readers might not have been able to get over that and believe Banallt’s sincere in his change of heart later.

  16. Janine
    Mar 22, 2009 @ 15:06:56

    Moth — The thing is that I do feel that this was a book that dug deep. But it dug deep into Sophie’s fears and her trust issues, and into the changed Banallt’s commitment to her, rather into the younger Banallt’s unfaithfulness to his wife. I don’t have a big problem with that, because there is only so much that an author can dig deeply into in one book, especially when you take into account length restricitions. I thought this was a tremendously moving and absorbing book, and it was just so satisfying to me, that the absence of more information about Banallt’s past was only a minor issue for me.

  17. Sandy
    Mar 24, 2009 @ 13:00:33

    Loved this book. I don’t read much historical romance, but this one definitely makes me want to try out some others. I think Jewel has a few other historical fictions published, but there so darn hard to get a hold of. I can only get them through sellers on B&N and Amazon sites. I hate to do that, but it looks like I might have to unless I can stumble across one of them in a used bookstore.

    Moth: I didn’t like the twist at first either. As I was reading the book, I felt like it could have ended about three different times, but something always happened to prolong the HEA. After thinking on the twist, though, even though I didn’t like it, I did like the angst Sophie experienced afterwards.

  18. Janine
    Mar 24, 2009 @ 13:42:47

    I’m so glad you loved the book too, Sandy. Thanks for letting me know.

  19. What Are We Looking For? Or You Say Potato I Say French Fries by Marisa | Romance Novel TV
    May 31, 2009 @ 05:48:19

    [...] Janine from Dear Author I couldn’t agree more. I loved the smoothness and elegant simplicity of your writing. There was a seamless quality to it that, along with the emotional aspects of the story, made the book wholly absorbing, and I stayed up until 3 AM in the morning to finish reading it. [...]

  20. CONVERSATIONAL REVIEW: Indiscreet by Carolyn Jewel | Dear Author: Romance Novel Reviews, Industry News, and Commentary
    Oct 14, 2009 @ 14:02:02

    [...] 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 [...]

  21. Top Ten Romances of 2009 by Janine | Dear Author: Romance Novel Reviews, Industry News, and Commentary
    Dec 29, 2009 @ 02:09:33

    [...] Scandal by Carolyn Jewel [...]

  22. REVIEW: Not Wicked Enough by Carolyn Jewel | Dear Author
    Feb 06, 2012 @ 14:30:31

    [...] loved your 2009 book, Scandal, and very much enjoyed Indiscreet, which came out later the same year. So [...]

%d bloggers like this: