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REVIEW: Scandal by Carolyn Jewel

 Everybody’s Talkin – Scandal by Carolyn Jewel

Reading is so much very about context I sometimes wonder how on earth we’re meant to sensibly assess our responses to, well, just about any book we pick up. I came to Scandal immediately after Bared to You, which had left me a very sad llama indeed. But then Carolyn Jewel took me in out of the rain, wrapped me up in a blanket, gave me a cup of tea and made it all okay again.

Sad Llama

I liked Scandal a lot, and I’m 90% certain my enthusiasm wasn’t solely related to the fact it wasn’t Bared to You.  It’s a bit of a puzzlebox of a book and it only really comes together after you’ve finished it when you can see where all the pieces are meant to go, which meant it engaged me intellectually more than it drew me in emotionally. That threw me a bit because it’s not what I’m used to in romance, but it was also part of the reason I was so terribly interested in Scandal.  It’s quite unlike any historical I’ve read before. From my vast pool of, like, six Scandal by Carolyn Jewel but y’know.

The book takes place across two timelines. It opens with the Earl of Banallt, ye traditional Regency badboy, rocking up to propose to the heroine, the recently widowed Sophie Evans.  They have a hinted-at history of friendship and betrayal from a time when they were both previously married, Banallt to a disappointingly invisible woman (more on this later) and Sophie to a faithless, worthless rake who only wanted her for her fortune.  So far, so typical. But Sophie listens very politely to Banallt’s proposal and then turns him down, and that was so not what I was expecting it blew my little socks off. And I spent the rest of Scandal fascinated and confused in almost equal measure.

It’s the first straight romance (straight in the sense of having no paranormal, fantasy or mystery elements to create an external plot) I’ve read where I had literally no idea what was going to happen next, or how the happy ending was supposed to come about. On the one hand, this was quite exciting but, on the other, I found it difficult to get a handle on the emotional trajectory, so that by the time Sophie and Banallt had decided their love and future happiness was actually viable, my response came down to “huh, well … that’s good?” rather than anything more impassioned or joyous. I can’t tell if this was a weakness in me as reader – perhaps if I was more familiar with the genre, I’d have been less hopelessly lost – or a natural consequence of the preoccupations and priorities of the text itself.

Scandal struck me as quite Austenian in many intriguing ways. I’m not trying to play amateur comparative lit here, but one of the things I really like about Austen is what you might call the “love … and” principle: this notion that love can’t just be this abstract thing, it has to be mediated through economics and society and selfhood; that it has to inform behaviour, and engage the mind, as well as the heart and, err, other bits. With Sophie and Banallt, the attainment of love is very much not the focus of their story. It’s already there. It’s about negotiating the possibility of a life together around love and interaction of behaviour, principles and emotion within particular social and personal contexts.

Just as Darcy’s love is pretty much worthless to Elizabeth unless he learns to behave in a way she can admire, Banallt’s love has no meaning to Sophie without his fidelity as well. She turns him down at the beginning of the book, not because of his past betrayal or because she doesn’t have feelings for him, but because – freed from economic or social constraints – she has resolved to marry only for love, and to a man she believes will be faithful to her. This is the spine of the conflict that keeps them apart for much of the book: Sophie’s private Catch 22 of being in love with, and loved by, a man she believes cannot be true to her.

As you might expect from a book called Scandal (a theme, a theme!), society plays a strong role in Sophie and Banallt’s story.  One of the most effective aspects of the book, for me, was the portrayal of the deeply claustrophobic world which Banallt and Sophie move through and are trapped in. This is a long quote but indulge me:

Guests had begun arriving from other engagements, and the parlor was now noisy in addition to crowded. He deliberately sought out Sophie so as to avoid meeting her. Despite the crush, he found her quickly [..] She stood near the middle of the room with his cousin Harry’s wife Margaret, facing the door he’d come in by. Sophie’s  dark-lashed eyes were fixed on a woman he’d once have pursued straight to a mattress. Mrs. Peters stood with her back to him, so he could only imagine the quizzical expression on her face from the way her head was tipped to one side. Margaret watched Mrs. Peters with an expression that suggested whatever she was hearing from the woman was not to her liking. Sophie looked as if she’d d just been insulted.

The book is full of scenes like this. I don’t think I’ve read a historical (again, pool of six, so take it with a pinch of salt) that has so effectively conveyed such an intense and discomforting sense of social reality. Gatherings feel bewilderingly full of people.  The text itself is a crush of names and faces, deceptions and rumours. It’s a world full of watchers, in which Sophie and Banallt’s mutual hyper-awareness creates a lone point of stillness that anchors them not only to each other but to themselves. And the nature of their society, with its hypocrisies and stifling mores, provides both backdrop and context for Sophie’s concerns about Banallt – he wants to prove to her that he’s a changed man but his society will only ever see him as the rake he used to be, and I think one of the many things Scandal wants us to think about is that intersection of our public and private identities: can we truly be someone other than the person people perceive us to be.

Equally, I found the dynamic between Sophie and Banallt both fascinating and utterly different to anything I’ve encountered in the genre before. I think he’s pretty much the only hero I’ve met who has come to the conclusion that, perhaps, the best way to make a woman like you is to, y’know, be nice to her.  His initial introduction and betrayal aside, he consistently treats Sophie well over the course of the book, supports her, admires her beauty and her intellect, wants to protect her but at the same time respects her right to make choices – even if those choices do not include marrying him. This shouldn’t be refreshing but it totally was.  Also there’s a bit towards the middle of the novel where Sophie decides that, even if she won’t marry Banallt, she might as well accept the fact she fancies the breeches off him … so they become lovers, something that causes her not a moment of guilt or shame:

She was a wicked woman now. An immoral woman. And she didn’t much care. (p. 170)

Go Sophie, go Sophie. And what’s even more interesting about that sequence is that Banallt only agrees to it because he loves her and he’ll pretty much do anything she wants for a hope of winning her heart:

He didn’t want Sophie to be a lover of his. What he wanted was to a permanent, legal relationship duly sanctified by the Church of England. But he knew better than to the raise the subject directly … “If that’s all I’m to have from you Sophie, we’re lovers.” (165)

So you have this completely delicious – and slightly tragic – reversal where the woman is in it for the no-strings bonking and the man desperately wants to get married. Also, I know reformed rake is a centuries old fantasy, but I think Scandal offers an interesting twist on it: Banallt is not reformed by the love of a good woman, he goes to some quite significant effort to reform himself for the mere hope of the love of one particular woman. To me, at least, that’s a far more romantic proposition, because it suggests both agency and real personal commitment. I guess I’m just not a DIY fan, especially when it comes to partners.

The downside of all this was that I didn’t really get much sense of Banallt’s rakishness, and therefore why Sophie was so convinced he hadn’t changed, and wasn’t able to. When we first meet him, he’s in full Shithead Mode, turning up at Sophie’s house with her awful husband and a bunch o’ whores, but he’s clearly a much better man than Tommy and, despite their rather tense beginning, Sophie and Banallt soon establish an understanding together.  At one point Sophie tells Banallt: “I would rather die than marry the man my husband wished he could be” (p. 20) but since this side of Banallt’s character is neither established or addressed in the book itself – just alluded to – it’s hard to really understand what was going on with him. I mean did he just wake up one morning and decide to be a corrupt, immoral rake for a bit? It wasn’t that I needed to have a specific explanation (like his parents didn’t love him enough or a woman was mean to him once) but it was hard to read any depth into Banallt’s decision to be a better man when I had no idea what drew him to being a bad one. By the same token, I was rather interested in this wife he claimed he loved, but wouldn’t be faithful to, but apart from conveniently dying, she’s otherwise completely absent from the text.

Sophie I found generally likeable but, unlike Banallt, she doesn’t really change over the course of the novel – she just changes in her response to him– and that’s measurably less engaging.  She’s one of those not-beautiful heroines everybody fancies, which is fine, although I was slightly exhausted by the number of people who ended up wanting to marry her over the course of the book. We were seriously in “form an orderly queue, gentlemen” territory. There were lots of things I admired about Sophie – she writes books, she’s sharp and intelligent, she got through a basically miserable marriage reasonably intact – but I never really warmed to her as much as I felt I should have done.  I think it might have had something to do with just how infatuated Banallt is with her. His POV is so very saturated in Sophie-adoration I found a bit wearying at times and, strangely enough, it kind of got in the way of seeing Sophie. She’s constantly at the centre of Banallt’s desperate yearning which means it’s always less about who she is than who she is to Banallt. But, then again, I guess that’s thematically appropriate because it’s a book so absolutely embedded in ideas of perception and context.

I know I’m using a lot of words like “interested” and “fascinated” and “intrigued” to talk about Scandal, and that brings to me to my main issue with the book, which was that I remained interested, fascinated and intrigued, but I didn’t really feel very much while I was reading. The basis of Sophie and Banallt’s relationship – the friendship that develops into love – is mainly established in the backstory timeline but, even though the sequences are textually close together, they’re chronologically not and I felt like I was being asked to carry forward a lot on pure faith.  I really enjoyed the backstory segments because they were the moments when I felt closest to understanding who Sophie and Banallt truly were and what they gave each other but, because nearly all their future interactions are, to some degree, socially constrained or involve some element of holding back or concealment (even when they’re having sex), by the time they got married and decided to have a HEA, I’d sort of lost them in the noise.

Similarly, I’d spent the whole book trying to figure out how Ms Jewel was going to extract her characters from such a deeply complicated mess of human feeling, moral principle, social pressure and past history. I think because I perceived the obstacles standing between Banallt and Sophie as being primarily internal, I expected the resolutions to be likewise. But, instead, at the midpoint of the novel there’s a sudden death and a welter of happenings, none of which seem all that closely connected to the events preceding them. John and Fanny Dashwood turn up on temporary loan from Sense and Sensibility to make Sophie’s life miserable and – out of other options – she decides she might as well marry Banallt for money and security, after all. It’s possible I missed something, but this jarred me slightly loose from the text.  It wasn’t what I thought the first half of the novel was leading me towards and, consequently, I found it a bit lacklustre as a conclusion to all the stuff that had initially drawn me in.

Looking back on the book, I can see (and admire) the intricacy of the way the dual chronologies interact, reflecting and contextualising each other. I was, however, sometimes at a slight loss as to know how to read particular scenes in juxtaposition.  Banallt’s big betrayal is a somewhat aggressive attempt to sleep with Sophie, not long after receiving the news that his young daughter (the one good thing he says he has ever done in his life) has died. In the present timeline, when Sophie is herself bereaved, she turns to Banallt for physical comfort, which he gives her, utterly selflessly.  Obviously I spotted the parallelism (give the man a prize) but I wasn’t sure how to interpret it: was it meant to redeem Banallt’s original betrayal (as he gives, without thought to himself, that which he would have previously taken from Sophie) or to expose the hypocrisy of Sophie’s original refusal.  After all, when somebody you love is suffering, it seems a bit harsh to reject them because of your personal morals or your sense of public ethics – especially when you’re clinging to those for someone you doesn’t love you, and has treated you really badly.  Or perhaps it was simply meant to reflect on their mutual selfishness at that time – Banallt pushing Sophie for sex, Sophie pushing him away – and their gradual movement to place where Banallt is willing to give and Sophie is willing to accept his giving.

Overall, Scandal  struck me as a genuinely unique book – one I suspect I’d probably appreciate even more on a second reading.  I liked the depth of the world, the ambition of the premise, the multiple timelines and the way it challenged basically all of my genre expectations.  Your mileage may vary on that one but my tiny mind: we may consider it blown.

Everything I learned about life and love from reading Scandal: apparently unattractive women are the most beautiful. Speculating randomly about the colour of a woman’s nipples is perfectly normal behaviour.  Two timelines are better than one. When in doubt, become a romance writer.

38 Comments

  1. Isobel Carr
    Jul 26, 2013 @ 12:50:51

    Jewel is on my short list of autobuy authors. Her books are always unique (which isn’t to everyone’s tastes, sadly). I’m always drawn in by the unusual dynamics she sets up between her characters and by the way she constructs her novels, if that makes sense.

  2. Janine
    Jul 26, 2013 @ 12:57:00

    SPOILER SPOILER SPOILER

    Hmm, wasn’t Sophie married to Tommy at the time of Banallt’s grief for his daughter? So he wasn’t just asking her to comfort him, he was asking her to commit adultery. That’s what I took to be the betrayal, unless I’m completely misremembering.

    Anyway, it sound like I felt this book much more than you. What I loved about it was Sophie’s fear (so visceral to me) of becoming vulnerable to Banallt. IMO it wasn’t just about Banallt’s betrayal, but about Tommy’s betrayals as well, and also about Banallt’s role in those.

    If the dual chronology was something you enjoyed, then may I take the liberty of recommending the works of a friend (and critique partner)? Sherry Thomas has four books with dual chronologies and I think Not Quite a Husband might be the best one to recommend to you.

  3. GrowlyCub
    Jul 26, 2013 @ 13:05:57

    I didn’t feel quite as detached as you describe, but yes, my most burning question was why Banallt said he loved his wife but wasn’t faithful. It felt there was a chunk of book missing explaining motivation, especially so because that sentence about loving the wife is in there. If it hadn’t been I might not have felt the lack of explanation as strongly. That said, I still like Banallt and Sophie a lot.

  4. Little Red
    Jul 26, 2013 @ 13:09:59

    Sounds fascinating. I’ll look for it the next time I’m at the library.

  5. LeeF
    Jul 26, 2013 @ 13:48:48

    So, is that a llama crying in the rain? Why is it crying? What movie/cartoon is it?

    Ok, back to your review. I haven’t read any Carolyn Jewel novels and your analysis makes it sound very good. So much so that I logged on to Amazon- and there is no ebook available. Grrrrr. I will look at the library. In fact, several of her other books look interesting as well.

  6. Karenmc
    Jul 26, 2013 @ 14:08:07

    @LeeF: You should give Indiscreet a try. The ebook is available at Amazon, and it’s very engaging.

  7. Jayne
    Jul 26, 2013 @ 14:17:49

    @LeeF: I think the llama is from a fairly forgettable (IMO) Disney film called “The Emperor’s New Groove.”

  8. Jae Lee
    Jul 26, 2013 @ 14:23:15

    I think that part of the reason that Sophie didn’t trust Banallt’s reformation is because of the fact that he professed to love his wife but was still unfaithful to her. I know that would give me a hell of a pause and I haven’t been burned the way Sophie was (so as to avoid spoilers, I’ll be super vague and say that I’m thinking of the events that led directly up to the death of her husband). Plus the fact that Banallt was an instigator/facilitator in her husband’s own infidelity.

    I kind of liked that Banallt was a super-slut just because he could be. He was pretty young and lived in a culture where the expectation was that dudes thought of nothing but sex and so no one was surprised when they did nothing but sex. Not that this isn’t still the case.

    Although the story worked for me, like, a lot, I didn’t think the dual chronology fulfilled its purpose and weakened the story a bit. I liked being able to get a sense of Sophie and Banallt’s history, but I didn’t understand why they fell in love. They met only a handful of times and on more than one occasion Banallt was being his jerky self. Mutually unrequited love is kind of my favorite trope in the universe, but finding the balance between too much backstory and not enough backstory is difficult.

    Anyhow, thanks for the review! I’m probably going to go read this again. I will also second the recommendation of Not Quite a Husband. IMO, it’s Thomas’ best work.

  9. Carolyn Jewel
    Jul 26, 2013 @ 16:27:52

    For anyone having issues with the eBook availability, please email me at carolyn AT carolynjewel.com.

  10. Susan
    Jul 26, 2013 @ 16:40:45

    You are absolute murder on my TBR pile. I’ve read other Jewel books, but not this one. Guess I’d better hop to it. And thank goodness I already own the ebook–yikes.

    And I’d also like to join the club of those recommending Sherry Thomas’s NQAH–you know, when you have some spare time. It’s in my top 5 fave romances (along w/ her His at Night).

  11. AJH
    Jul 26, 2013 @ 16:59:28

    @Isobel Carr:

    That very much makes sense to me.

    As I said in the review, I found SCANDAL pretty fascinating – I loved the dynamic between Banallt and Sophie, the fact he demonstrates he likes her by being nice to her, and the fact it felt genuinely uncertain whether he would “get” her. I know, of course, it was a romance so, well, yes he would – but I liked the way it was presented as hopeless pursuit for most of the book.

    And I thought the two timelines was a really interesting construction, and I thought the two stories reflected and enhanced each other in very intriguing ways.

    @Janine:

    She was still married to Tommy when Banallt comes to her grief-stricken but her marriage, at that stage, was basically a sham. Tommy had made her vows he had no intention of keeping, and already broken repeatedly. I’m not trying get into the morality of adultery but, since I read one of the themes of the novel has being the intersection of private and public selves and private and public ethics, so I saw there as being interpretive space around Sophie’s behaviour.

    I mean, there’s no question that Banallt betrays her – ultimately you don’t bully people into having sex with you, even if you love them, regardless of their marital state – but, at the same time, when somebody you love is truly in utter distress I’m not sure how far what’s right and wrong truly matters, or to what degree it should.

    I liked SCANDAL very much indeed, but I agree I didn’t have much emotional response to it. I suppose, just on a personal level, physical faith isn’t especially important to me, so that stopped me connecting in any visceral way with the dominant motivation of one of the characters. But there was lots I admired about the book.

    Thank you for the rec, Thomas is on my list, but I think I have PRIVATE ARRANGEMENTS, but I’ll certainly consider NOT QUITE A HUSBAND as well.

    @GrowlyCub:

    This could very much be my weakness. I think if I can disappear into an intellectual space I will, and there was lots about SCANDAL that made me want to step back and think about things, and the way they connected, rather than just let the novel draw me in and take its course. I don’t, in any way, see this as a problem with the text, it was just my personal response to it.

    And, yes, that line about Banallt loving his wife was basically why I was slightly bewildered about the background of Banallt’s behaviour and choices. I thought it was genuinely interesting because faith is so black-and-white to Sophie, so I thought they were going to get another perspective. I kind of wanted to know if he was deceiving himself.

    And, yes, even though I said I wasn’t being on the feeling-things, I liked Banallt and Sophie a lot as well.

    @Little Red:

    I hope you like it – I found SCANDAL genuinely and quite startlingly different to anything else I’ve read.

    @LeeF

    Yes, that llama has just read BARED TO YOU. It’s from THE EMPEROR’S NEW GROOVE and it’s one of my favourite Disney films (forgettable, bah! ;) ). It’s low on songs, admittedly, but it has a llama in it. What more do you want? Also Eartha Kitt. It’s a riff on The Emperor’s New Clothes, it’s very very silly indeed, but it unfailingly makes me laugh. Also Eartha Kitt’s character weirdly has this adorable gay sidekick called Kronk, who is adorable, makes spinach puffs and talks to squirrels.

    I had real trouble getting hold of SCANDAL, to be honest with you. As you say, it’s not available in ebook, and why the heck not?! This is an outrage. Ahem. But, yes, I eventually managed to get a paper copy shipped in from the US which cost me like 0.01p and about eighty million pounds in postage.

    @Jae Lee:

    Yes, of course, I saw that feeding entirely legitimately into her concerns. I guess I was just expecting it be unpacked a bit, since it was something Banallt genuinely seemed to believe what he was saying about loving his wife was true, not just arrant self-deception and/or cruelty. I mean I know for a lot of people, in any century, physical fidelity is an integral and essential part of love but, equally, plenty of relationships function entirely successfully without it.

    Also I didn’t necessarily see Banallt as the instigator of Tommy’s behaviour, I thought Tommy would have behaved like that anyway, he just happened to have Banallt to imitate. In short, I thought Banallt was a passive incitement, not an active one. But, again, I’m not sure if that’s a relevant distinction to make because he was still connected to the source of Sophie’s betrayal and unhappiness.

    I agree that it was nice to see a portrayal of a rake that didn’t go out of its way to establish a root cause of, you know, personal pain and trauma. However, I’m naturally wary of reading too much into a general sense of cultural expectation, especially when it’s an entirely different time period and an entirely different culture. I know it’s always sort of been culturally accepted that men will have the liberty, and the physical need, to shag about at will, but my very vague understanding is that, although rakes weren’t censured, they weren’t the social norm either. And although I didn’t want A Reason TM, I just wanted to understand … well … what Banallt got out of it, really? Like, he didn’t seem to be having much fun.

    I can see what you mean about the backstory / frontstory balance. In many ways the backstory is more conventional: dude is a jerk, discovers he likes the heroine, stops being a jerk, so I knew exactly how to read it, and what it was telling mee, so perhaps that’s why I was so invested in it. But, you’re right, I had some trouble slotting the pieces into place.

    I am definitely going to take a look at Thomas, though I’m not sure which book yet. I keep hearing mixed things about NOT QUITE A HUSBAND.

  12. Ducky
    Jul 26, 2013 @ 17:25:38

    I really like this romance and that is despite me having these niggling doubts about Bannalt’s continued fidelity let’s say 5 or 10 years into the HEA. I feel this way also about one particular Georgette Heyer hero but with both heroes and with both stories I enjoyed the writing and the characters journey so much my doubts don’t derail my enjoyment.

    I also recommend Sherry Thomas’ “Not Quite A Husband” for you to read which also has some interesting and very touching things to say about fidelity.

  13. Janine
    Jul 26, 2013 @ 17:40:35

    @AJH: I thought it was very important to Sophie not to sink to her husband’s level or Banallt’s either, vis a vis fidelity. I mean obviously fidelity was very important to her in a spouse, and I think she wanted to be a person of integrity. So I saw Banallt as asking her, in a sense, to violate that integrity and I felt that by doing so, he confirmed Sophie’s opinion that he couldn’t understand her value system. And this opinion– that he wouldn’t and couldn’t be faithful to her– was the reason she kept refusing him throughout the book, so I thought that this aspect of his betrayal was relevant.

  14. AJH
    Jul 26, 2013 @ 18:01:27

    @Susan:

    Well, my own TBR is ludicrous so I like the share the pain ;) And Carolyn Jewel is definitely going on my secondary “must revisit” TBR as well so … I’m basically doomed.

    I hope you enjoy SCANDAL.

    And now I’m really confused about NQAH – everyone was telling me to try PRIVATE ARRANGEMENTS but I’m quite fickle so… argh :)

    @Ducky:

    To be honest, it hadn’t actually occurred to me to question Banallt’s continued fidelity – so I guess that counts as no doubts, niggling or otherwise ;)

    I think because I didn’t get much sense of his rakishness, why he would choose it, rather than it being one possible way for an idle young man to behave, I didn’t really worry about him getting tempted, or reverting to a pattern.

    To be absolutely honest, I was borderline impatient with Sophie towards in the final third of the book for not believing he’d changed – but then I thought that was uncharitable of me because she hasn’t spent the last 300 pages in his POV like I had. I think what interested me about the portrayal of Banallt was that it was quite a practical redemption, if that makes sense, he proves his devotion by acting considerately and treating her well, but I wasn’t sure about the psychology underpinning it.

    @Janine:

    That’s strikes me as a perfectly reasonable reading.

    Like I say, I just thought there was interpretative space around the whole issue which I thought was interesting. I mean as much as you shouldn’t ask your loved ones to violate their integrity for you, there’s a degree to which it could be seen as selfish, in some circumstances, to put something as personal as your own moral code over the happiness of someone you love.

  15. Jorrie Spencer
    Jul 26, 2013 @ 18:07:23

    I keep meaning to read Carolyn Jewel and somehow haven’t managed to yet. This review has certainly made me remember she should be on TBR pile. Especially since I’d like to find more historical romance authors.

    I very much enjoyed Not Quite a Husband by Sherry Thomas, but I’ll say that His At Night is my absolute favorite of hers.

  16. Janine
    Jul 26, 2013 @ 18:13:21

    @AJH:

    I mean as much as you shouldn’t ask your loved ones to violate their integrity for you, there’s a degree to which it could be seen as selfish, in some circumstances, to put something as personal as your own moral code over the happiness of someone you love.

    I don’t disagree with that but I think that very much depends on what you’re asking of the person when you ask them to violate their moral code. If they have a flexible sense of morality that’s one thing, but if their moral code is integral to their well-being and maybe even their ability to look themselves in the mirror, as I thought was the case with Sophie, then maybe asking that is too much? I agree that it’s open to interpretation but I thought that having the moral high ground gave Sophie a sense of personal dignity that was what held her together despite all the humiliations Tommy heaped on her. I didn’t see her as someone who could have gone on with her life very easily, had she slept with Banallt when he needed her so badly.

  17. hapax
    Jul 26, 2013 @ 18:28:12

    @Jae Lee:

    I kind of liked that Banallt was a super-slut just because he could be. He was pretty young and lived in a culture where the expectation was that dudes thought of nothing but sex and so no one was surprised when they did nothing but sex.

    That’s what I liked best about this story as well. Not to get all jargon-y, but I saw Banallt as an example of a man as much entrapped by the patriarchy and gender expectations as any woman (including the woman he had come to love).

    That’s not a common sight in traditional romances, and I love Jewel for exploring it.

  18. GrowlyCub
    Jul 26, 2013 @ 18:51:51

    @Ducky: You are the 2nd person who mentioned that they aren’t sure Damerel will stay faithful in the last couple months. I never got that impression. He only took it up because of what happened to him with his first love and to spit in his parents’ face after being disowned. I always thought by the time he met Venetia he was pretty bored by it all but continued because there was little reason not to. I know there’s the scene where Venetia says she didn’t know and in light of Heyer’s own relationship I’ve wondered a bit but I guess I look at Damerel and just can’t see him seeking out mutton elsewhere when he has steak at home or however that idiom goes. :)

  19. Ducky
    Jul 26, 2013 @ 19:33:49

    @GrowlyCub:

    I want to believe that both Damerel and Bannalt will stay faithful. I think infidelity would hurt Venetia less than Sophie – Venetia seems sturdier and more pragmatic to me than Sophie, and of course she doesn’t have Sophie’s baggage. The thing is that I can’t quite divorce myself from the knowledge that that there was a lot of infidelity in upper class Regency marriages and from my real life experience that monogamy doesn’t come easy for a lot of people. So I am conflicted between my desire for the HEA and my life experience.

  20. GrowlyCub
    Jul 26, 2013 @ 19:42:01

    @Ducky: I don’t disagree that there was a lot of infidelity, but always thought that had mostly to do with the fact that the partners didn’t choose each other, but that so many marriages were political or familial alliances with the players secondary to the bigger goal. And Venetia and Damerel very much chose each other, so from that perspective I just don’t see that as likely motivator for him.

    ETA: Also, having had his pick up to that point, I don’t think Damerel would feel like he missed something by confining himself to one woman.

    Banallt is a bit more difficult. With him you have the prior (unexplained) history, but I think he worked so hard for Sophie and he’s so very aware of her fragility at the end that I think even if he were tempted he’d be able to resist.

  21. Kate Sherwood
    Jul 26, 2013 @ 20:01:01

    Wow, I was in as soon as I read “he consistently treats Sophie well over the course of the book, supports her, admires her beauty and her intellect, wants to protect her but at the same time respects her right to make choices”. I have been reading WAY too many heroes lately who couldn’t seem to figure out this basic quality.

    But now I have to track down a hard-to-find e-book? Grrrrr.

  22. cbackson
    Jul 26, 2013 @ 20:38:07

    AJH, I know you’re unlikely to double-dip on an author, but man, I would love to hear your take on Jewel’s most recent paranormal romance, My Darkest Passion. I’ve already raved about it hear and elsewhere, but it’s a fairly remarkable book. It goes where angels fear to tread in terms of romance plots and the heroine is unlike anything I’ve ever seen.

  23. Susan
    Jul 26, 2013 @ 21:18:03

    @AJH: NQAH seems to provoke some pretty strong opinions, both for and against. Truthfully, I can see why some people might not care for it, but it sings to me. I think there’s also a divide regarding Private Arrangements, but maybe not as pronounced. While it wasn’t my favorite Thomas, I’ve still read PA countless times. So far, there’s no such thing as a bad Sherry Thomas book and the first four (Private Arrangements, Delicious, Not Quite a Husband, and His at Night) especially are all in a class of their own.

    Sorry–enough with diverting the discussion from Ms. Jewel’s book! Carry on.

  24. Elle
    Jul 27, 2013 @ 00:08:15

    @AJH: Please, please read Sherry Thomas! She’s my one and only auto-buy (weelll…I think that’s a lie, but). I highly recommend Private Arrangements and Ravishing the Heiress.

    A second only slightly relevant comment: I, too, loved The Emperor’s New Groove. That Eartha Kitt character and her studly bodyguard are utterly hilarious.

  25. Carolyn jewel
    Jul 27, 2013 @ 00:34:02

    Ah and any one in the UK: the ebook of scandal should definitely be available there. It has a different cover tho. But it’s there at http://www.amazon.co.uk/Scandal-ebook/dp/B0087WZ4JK/

  26. AJH
    Jul 27, 2013 @ 06:47:45

    @Jorrie Spencer:

    Oh, she definitely deserves a place near the top of your TBR pile – I genuinely really enjoyed this, and I thought it did some really interesting things with what, in my slightly ignorant way, I perceived as genre expectations, and I found it noticeably different to any of the historical I’d read so far.

    Moving Sherry Thomas up my list :)

    @Janine:

    I’m not disagreeing either. I see your reading. I suppose, for me, the text felt slightly more balanced as an exploration of two people who are both, in their way a little bit selfish and a little bit fearful – rather than the right/wrong distinction between so clear cut. I found Sophie hovered on the verge of being over-perfect, occasionally, just for me personally. Also she does, later, consent to have sex with Banallt outside of wedlock anyway and at her own instigation, so I think it’s quite a grey area in general.

    @GrowlyCub & Ducky

    I know you’re not talking to me, so sorry to barge in but I was interested… it’s just it’s not something I’ve really considered. I really like VENETIA and I honestly didn’t think for a moment that Damerel would be unfaithful (sorry typo!) to her – as GC says, I saw his raking-it-up as very much embedded in personal unhappiness, disappointment and habit, rather than anything that you might wake up in morning and miss doing. Like “I don’t think I’ve been self-destructive enough today, I think I’d better make myself feel bad by shagging a random.”

    I think, for me, the difference is that I didn’t really know why Banallt was behaving the way he was (and, as it I said, that’s not about needing a literal Reason for it, just some psychological underpinning), and the fact that he had already been married to someone he claimed he loved, and yet been unfaithful anyway. I know different time, yadda yadda, different expectations, but I think a very basic part of being in love is not making the person you love feel unhappy – but without more about Banallt’s wife, you can’t really make this call. I mean, if she genuinely didn’t care that Banallt was shagging other people, then it’s fine, right?

    I think that’s my basic feeling about monogamy in general – on its own it’s a bit abstract, but as part of a wider framework of a loved one’s happiness that it becomes valid. I mean if you genuinely feel unable to be monogamous, and monogamy is important to the person you’re with, then you shouldn’t be with that person. Obviously that’s not really applicable to imaginary people in the Regency period but I don’t believe physical fidelity inherently has to be part of a functional relationship.

    @Kate Sherwood:

    Yes, I loved that about SCANDAL. It feels slightly weird being nice to the heroine is a rare quality in a hero. But, to me, there was something quite deeply romantic about Banallt’s behaviour to Sophie and his efforts to turn himself into a man she feels she can trust for the rest of her life. It felt like a redemption story that was genuinely interested in the process of redemption – what it would really mean and involve.

    If you scroll through the comments, there a couple of messages from Carolyn Jewel about how to get hold of the ebooks.

    @cbackson:

    I’m trying not to double dip so soon into my reading but I do have a second list for authors I want to re-visit – and Jewel is definitely going on it.

    I loved how unusual SCANDAL was, so you’ve definitely sold me on MY DARKEST PASSION :)

    @Susan:

    I’m sold. Divisive books are always fascinating, to be honest.

    I’m moving Thomas up my list, though it’s probably still going to be September-ish by the time I get there.

    @Elle:

    I will definitely read Thomas, and I shall expect the comments to be full of people telling me to read more Carolyn Jewel ;)

    Also *hi-fives* I can’t believe anyone thought The Emperor’s New Groove was forgettable. Eartha Kitt is perfect, and Kronk is adorbs. Also “why do we even have that lever” is an important part of my personal idiolect :)

    @Carolyn jewel:

    Just wanted to say thank you for the links – I have no idea why I had such trouble finding an e-copy when I was looking, but it might have just been ineptitude on my part.

    Also, I know it’s ludicrously irrelevant but I much prefer the new cover. I really took against the random purple dress the model is wearing on the front of the paperback. I don’t know why, but it looks like some kind of Regency Project Runway catastrophe – I can just imagine someone complaining about the fact the fabric looks like tent canvas and wondering what on earth they were thinking with the belt thing….

  27. Janine
    Jul 27, 2013 @ 10:51:10

    @AJH: I agree inasmuch as I feel that Sophie certainly judged Banallt harshly. And to clarify, it wasn’t actually that much a distinction of right/wrong in my mind. But I felt that it was about right/wrong in Sophie’s mind.

  28. CD
    Jul 27, 2013 @ 12:54:12

    It’s been some time but I remember really loving this book – particularly as an author would have to be really REALLY terrible to not make unrequited love work for me. Add amnesia to it, and I’ll buy the book no matter how terrible the reviews are. I’m easy that way…

    I read the Banallt’s “betrayal” very much as Janine did: I didn’t feel that there was any black/white judgements made about either Banallt or Sophie – it was actually refreshing to be able to see and understand why both sides felt betrayed by the other’s reaction. And given that I somehow had quite a number of things stuck in my eye during the course of reading this book, it certainly affected me emotionally. Again, I’m easy.

    As for Banallt’s infidelity, it’s obviously perfectly possible for him to have loved his wife and still be unfaithful. My memory here may be faulty but my impression was that he never thought of fidelity as all that important before Sophie, so even if he had a suspicion that his infidelities hurt his previous wife, I saw him just shrugging them off as a non-issue. I think Sophie and her vulnerabilities around fidelity made him reevaluate his assumptions. Because he knows how important it is to her, I actually have no doubts about his fidelity in the future.

    However, I suspect that Damerel would dabble elsewhere – mostly because it’s probably an ingrained habit, and also because I don’t think it would affect Venetia or their relationship that much. I can’t see him falling in love with anyone else or having a blatant affair, but I could see him having something discretely on the side on the occasional trip to London…

    My favourite Jewel book though is LORD RUIN. It’s a bit of a guilty pleasure and starts off typically enough with a rake hero being caught deflowering the heroine while he’s pissed as a newt and she’s under the influence of opiates, forcing them to marry. So far so boring (although that scene is pretty hot. Ahem.). But then what I love about that book is that he more or less immediately falls for her hook line and sinker and she, well, doesn’t. I like my heroes to suffer [evil cackle]…

    As for Sherry Thomas, I couldn’t stand PRIVATE ARRANGEMENTS – mostly because Cam is such a hypocritical judgmental ARSE who deserves to get his bits cut off with something blunt and rusty. I spent the whole booking hoping that the heroine would just dump him and go off with the other fellow… However, I did really like DELICIOUS and HIS AT NIGHT. My favourite Sherry Thomas book though is TEMPTING THE BRIDE (amnesia + unrequited love = happy CD) with RAVISHING THE HEIRESS being the second. Oh, the painful yet glorious angst…

  29. CD
    Jul 27, 2013 @ 13:02:11

    “I think he’s pretty much the only hero I’ve met who has come to the conclusion that, perhaps, the best way to make a woman like you is to, y’know, be nice to her. ”

    Really? You’ve been reading the wrong romance books. Where’s your list again?

  30. Ginger Weil
    Jul 28, 2013 @ 07:51:29

    I never for a moment thought Damerel would cheat on Venetia. Have sex with someone other than her? Possibly. Cheat on her? Never. They’re not, y’know, the same thing, and even before they marry she’s pretty explicit about her expectations – if he hosts a mad orgy or whatnot, she expects to be invited or at least be in the know. Perhaps play hostess.

  31. Jane Lovering
    Jul 28, 2013 @ 11:08:25

    Sorry, just chiming in with another vote for Emperor’s New Groove’. “He’s, what, twenty three, twenty four…?” It is a very funny film, and I’ve always thought llamas were arrogant…

  32. sula
    Jul 28, 2013 @ 19:09:22

    @CD: I remember buying Private Arrangements because of all the positive buzz but then after reading some reviews that indicated the plot, decided not to read it because I thought it would push my hot buttons too hard. Can’t say I’ve ever really felt sad about missing it either. Btw, I got my copy of Seducing the Mercenary this week and am ready to compare notes! If I can’t remember my password for the AAR boards and find you over there, drop me a line at sulawesigirl4 at yahoo dot com.

    AJH, yet again you make me want to pick up and reread a book that I’ve had sitting on my shelf for a while. :) I seem to recall having a somewhat similar reaction to you, in that my head was engaged more than my heart. I found the writing quite lovely but I never really warmed up to the characters. I wonder if that would improve upon a second reading…

  33. Lakaribane
    Jul 28, 2013 @ 21:29:24

    I loved this book. And I want to contribute a RL anecdote to the “love my wife but cheat on her”. I have a coworker who used to tell me this very thing. That he loved his wife enough to marry her but that he enjoyed/needed/wanted other women on the side. I never got this: perso, I am a jealous and territorial beast and my parents divorce was ugly for reasons of infidelity (and my father’s 2nd wife was married too so, fun!). Well, to get back to the coworker, I remember beign shocked at HIS shock when she left him, left him their daughter and left the country to follow another man! I always felt like he took her presence or affection for granted, thinking she was a Sure Thing (or a convenience? after all, a wife keeps the Incidentals from getting their hopes up) and well, she didn’t share his outlook.

  34. Julie M.
    Jul 28, 2013 @ 22:24:35

    I loved Scandal, may have to re-read it after this discussion. Also have to echo the love for the Emperor’s New Groove. My boys are 20 and 16 now and it is an oft quoted movie. “Why do we even have that lever” and so many other great lines!

  35. Janine
    Jul 29, 2013 @ 17:26:08

    @Lakaribane: Wow, what a story! I feel very sorry for their daughter, though.

  36. GrowlyCub
    Jul 30, 2013 @ 15:38:43

    @CD: Fascinating. Took me 5 attempts to finish Delicious, what a meh read. Quite liked PA. Loved HAN. HATED, hated, hated, can’t express how much I hated Ravishing the Heiress. I wanted Millie to go off and find a guy who loved her, not stay with that sorry excuse for a whiny, self-indulgent human being, Fitz. He had the gall to accuse her of wrong doing, he never groveled and after 8 years of her doing the doormat and him indulging his every sexual whim I do not believe for a nano-second that he’ll be faithful to Millie. Definitely different strokes and all that. :)

  37. Zizie
    Aug 01, 2013 @ 04:57:52

    Dear AJH

    As usual all of your reviews are fabulous to read.
    I know your TBR is at risk of toppling over but please please read my all time favorites which are Behind Close Doors by Betina Krahn, The Fairest of Them All by Teresa Medeiros, Claiming the Courtesan by Anna Campbell,Something Wonderful by Judith Mcnaught and my absolute favorite – Bewitching by Jill Barnett.
    I love these books and I would very much like to read your take on them. Thank you

  38. AJH
    Aug 02, 2013 @ 17:10:10

    @CD:

    Sorry, I’m massively late to the party – for some reason I stopped getting email alerts.
    I certainly saw the betrayal as interestingly nuanced and two-sided, I think that was what I was trying to say? As in, I thought it was wrong of Banallt to push Sophie to compromise her integrity but, at the same time, I think you could argue that Sophie was equally selfish in clinging to it.

    I feel … odd, actually, that I wasn’t more emotionally affected by SCANDAL. I really enjoyed reading it, and I cared about the characters, and I was very very interested in everything it was doing … but I didn’t quite get that personal moment of emotional connection. I think I got too drawn into the puzzlebox side of things, and forgot to, you know, engage heart or whatever. I might feel very differently on a re-read, when I was thinking about things less.
    I definitely didn’t mean to suggest that I didn’t believe Banallt could love his wife and be also be unfaithful. But equally his wife is such a blank that it’s hard to get a sense of what that meant to her, and if/how it affected her. As you say, meeting Sophie changed his way of thinking, but it’s hard to evaluate that without the wider context. I mean, even if you believe it’s sincere, your love for someone can’t have much value to them, if your behaviour makes them unhappy. I mean, that’s kind of a theme, so I kind of wondered how it affected Banallt, his wife and their relationship.

    You know, it’s never previously occurred to me to evaluate the future likelihood of hero fidelity. Re Damerel, I always felt his sexual exploits were sort of a toxic mixture of self-harm and fleeting gratification. I genuinely couldn’t imagine him taking them up again, not with his beautiful, sexy wife-friend right there. And I know sexual addiction is a thing in the modern world, but I didn’t even get a shadow of that in his portrayal. But this is more speculation than interpretation.

    I’m definitely going to revisit Jewel, and LORD RUIN sounds splendid :) Not sure which Thomas, yet, though. I keep getting mixed messages and can’t decide. Ye gods, romance readers have varied opinions ;)

    @Ginger Weil:

    While I absolutely agree that sleeping with other people is not automatically cheating, I read the orgy line is … well … a joke. Her showing she wasn’t shocked, and wouldn’t be shocked, and was generally willing to accept him, whatever his habits or behaviour. I’m not sure they were literally planning to host future orgies. But, y’ know, they were pretty perfect for each other so that works as an interpretation too.

    @Jane Lovering:

    *hi fives*

    I deeply love that film. I quote it all the time.

    Yay! I’m a llama again.

    *coughs* *slinks away*

    @sula:

    I would be genuinely interested in re-reading this one as well. I mean, not straight away, that would be silly. But I do wonder if the head/heart reaction thing was due to the intricacies of the text’s construction – and if I could take that out of the equation, then I might be better able to engage with the characters.

    And, you’re right, Jewel writes absolutely beautifully. Banallt’s tarnished silver eyes are oddly haunting.

    @Lakaribane:

    Ouch. As far as I’m concerned, successful relationships need to find their own equilibrium – whether that’s monogamy or something else, but you definitely can’t have imbalances like that, one person taking what they want/need at the expense of the other person. And, from vague anecdotal evidence, non-monogamous relationships are better stabilised when it’s mutual: you can’t really have one person sitting at home darning the socks while the other person, um, does their thing. You can’t really distil the complexity of human interactions into ground rules but “not doing stuff that makes the other person unhappy” seems fairly basic.

    @Julie M.:

    My partner and I quote it to each other all the time – “Why do we even have that lever” in particular.

    @Zizie:

    Oh, my TBR pile can take it. I think I may have a minor addiction problem.

    I always worry about reading books people really love in case I, you know, hate them and trash them, and make everyone miserable. But I’ll try not to :)

    Thank you for the recs, they’re on my list.

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