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REVIEW: Scandal by Carolyn Jewel

Dear Ms. Jewel,

042522551801lzzzzzzzThough I remember hearing good things several years ago about your book Lord Ruin, I never got around to picking it up. I did read a subsequent book, The Spare, and though I thought it had some interesting Gothic elements, ultimately I found it uneven and graded it a C+. Still, I had it in the back of my mind that I wanted to try your work again and when then opportunity to read Scandal came along, I decided to give it a try. I’m glad I did.

The Earl of Banallt and the young widow Sophie Evans encounter each other when Sophie’s brother John brings Banallt home. John is unaware that the notorious earl and his sister have a history. Several years before, Sophie had first met Banallt when her philandering husband, Tommy, brought him home unexpectedly late one night. Both men were drunk, and they were accompanied by a woman of dubious reputation. From this inauspicious beginning, Sophie and Banallt formed an unlikely friendship. Banallt found himself strongly desiring Sophie, in spite of the fact that she’s no beauty. Sophie was unhappy, scarred by Tommy’s constant infidelity and the knowledge that he only married her (over the anvil in Scotland) for her inheritance – a circumstance that estranged her from her family for a time. She was drawn to Banallt but even more than any attraction she felt for him, she desperately needed a friend and confidante. Unfortunately, in a moment of anguish, Banallt destroyed the friendship. Sophie tells him she doesn’t want to see him again, and indeed they do not meet again for some time.

Banallt has returned a changed man. Sophie’s widowhood opens up the possibility that he can offer for her honorably – which he does, only to be promptly turned down.

This is a pretty simple story at its heart – my preference is for simple stories that focus on the hero and heroine, but it can be difficult for a writer to pull off without being repetitive or boring the reader. Banallt and Sophie are each well drawn and sympathetic, and that makes their love story compelling, even when one begins to wonder why Sophie is so determined to believe that Banallt hasn’t changed, and why Banallt doesn’t try harder to convince her that he has.

Sophie is nothing that the average romance reader hasn’t seen before – she was a headstrong girl who entered into a disastrous marriage, and learned some hard lessons along the way. As a result, she is perhaps more sensible and cautious than your average 25-year-old woman. Her years with Tommy were not only difficult emotionally, but financially. He quickly squandered her inheritance (hmm, now that I think of it, I’m not sure if it’s ever explained what funds a 17-year-old heiress had access to anyway – perhaps the reader was to assume that Sophie’s family, while turning their backs on her, did at least settle some money on the couple?). Sophie turned to writing fiction as a means to earn desperately needed money; she had always had a vivid imagination, and while the writing is a means to an end for her, it’s also a way for her to escape the misery of her daily life. Banallt’s appreciation of Sophie’s writing is an early bond between them, and a sign that he’s not all bad in spite of his dissipation.

Back in the present day, Sophie has been freed by Tommy’s death – reunited with her brother John and no longer needing to support herself with her writing. She is willing to put aside her own dreams to help John achieve his political goals. As the situation between England and France escalates (the bulk of the book takes place in 1815), Sophie and John move to London so he can take part in the political and military maneuverings, and this thrusts Sophie and Banallt back together (as well as introducing couple of other suitors for Sophie, and a potential rival in the form of Banallt’s ward Fidelia).

One thing that niggled me a bit was that there was never any explanation of why Banallt was such a man-slut originally. Now, don’t get me wrong, I get sick of shallow explanations for a hero’s promiscuity, such as, "Mommy didn’t love me enough" or "first wife cheated on me, boo hoo", but considering that Banallt was known for how especially wild he was, I felt that some sort of context was needed. He was also married at the time he met Sophie, to a woman he professes that he loved. I, unlike Sophie, did not have trouble believing that Banallt had changed – there is motivation in the plot for that. But I felt that his past and the events that shaped his character were a bit of a question mark, and I wouldn’t have minded a little more development there.

I was positively impressed by the prose in Scandal; it was smooth and free of romance-novel clichés. I wondered a bit at the physical descriptions of Banallt – he is consistently described by Sophie as being very pale and having "flat, lifeless" silver eyes. While the description made him sound rather vampiric, I ultimately decided that it was a welcome touch of realism to have a 19th century English aristocrat actually be pale rather than movie-star tan.

If I found myself aggravated at times by Sophie’s indecision over Banallt and her stubborn insistence that he would one day do her wrong, at least Sophie herself is aware that she is acting like a ninny:

She curled her legs beneath her, put her arms on the back of the sofa, and buried her face there. What a farce this night was becoming. She burned hot one moment, cold the next. She didn’t want him to leave her. She couldn’t bear to be near him. He was her friend. He would break her heart.

The self-awareness, and the fact that Sophie did have real wounds from her first marriage that made it difficult for her to trust Banallt, went a long way towards mollifying me when I was fed up with Sophie. Banallt, on the other hand, has less reason for not explicitly telling Sophie as many times as is necessary that he has changed and doesn’t intend to be unfaithful. Maybe she wouldn’t believe him at first, but he doesn’t even really try until the end of the book. I wondered if this was because he had his own reservations on the subject, but since it’s never brought up, I have to assume that it’s more a case of "the book would be a lot shorter if the characters behaved in ways that made sense". It didn’t bother me too much, but I did wonder about it.

My grade for Scandal is an A-. I will definitely be looking forward to your future books, Ms. Jewel, as well as hunting around for a copy of Lord Ruin.

Best regards,

Jennie

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

has been an avid if often frustrated romance reader for the past 15 years. In that time she's read a lot of good romances, a few great ones, and, unfortunately, a whole lot of dreck. Many of her favorite authors (Ivory, Kinsale, Gaffney, Williamson, Ibbotson) have moved onto other genres or produce new books only rarely, so she's had to expand her horizons a bit. Newer authors she enjoys include Julie Ann Long, Megan Hart and J.R. Ward, and she eagerly anticipates each new Sookie Stackhouse novel. Strong prose and characterization go a long way with her, though if they are combined with an unusual plot or setting, all the better. When she's not reading romance she can usually be found reading historical non-fiction.

12 Comments

  1. Sherry Thomas
    Feb 04, 2009 @ 19:39:58

    I gave a blurb for this book so I’m thrilled that it’s been well received–even though I don’t even know whether my blurb was used.

    Must get out to a bookstore to find a physical copy.

  2. Janine
    Feb 04, 2009 @ 20:26:56

    This book sounds really good. I can’t wait to read it.

  3. SonomaLass
    Feb 04, 2009 @ 22:40:54

    I bought this book on the strength of SB Sarah’s review, and I’m looking forward to it even more now!

    Yes, Sherry, your blurb in on the back cover: “An intense, beautiful love story.”

  4. Lizzy
    Feb 05, 2009 @ 08:15:10

    I love friends-to-lovers, so this sounds perfect to me.

    The man on the cover must not be Banallt. He has clearly been to his local Zoom Tan.

  5. KarLynP
    Feb 05, 2009 @ 12:34:05

    I was home sick yesterday and ended up reading this entire book. I never even heard of this author until last week, and only picked up her book on a whim while at the bookstore. I think your A- grade is spot on.

    After the first few chapters I knew it was going to be a fantastic read as the writing was so good and the plot interesting. The story begins a few years after Banallt and Sophie first meet, and I loved how their past was slowly revealed without jarring the flow of the story. The story of their love for each other kept building and building. Sophie’s reluctant behavior made perfect sense, and Banallt's struggle with his feelings for her just tugged at my heart. We know he has changed his rakish ways, but no one wants to believe it. Overall, a really good, heart-felt love story with a lot of chemistry and steam – just the way I like my romances.

  6. GrowlyCub
    Feb 05, 2009 @ 16:46:57

    I tried to buy this today, but as usual the local Walmart didn’t carry what I wanted. They did have the Hunter and a couple of others DA reviewed over the last couple of weeks, but naturally not the one I wanted to buy. Sigh.

  7. Jennie
    Feb 05, 2009 @ 19:25:33

    The man on the cover must not be Banallt. He has clearly been to his local Zoom Tan.

    Heh. Seriously, I get sick of the supposedly-brown aristocrat in historical romances. Even if he were out on his horse, he’d have at best a farmer’s tan, which is not that appealing. I come from Northern European stock myself, and well know that we come in two shades – pale and paler!

    After the first few chapters I knew it was going to be a fantastic read as the writing was so good and the plot interesting. The story begins a few years after Banallt and Sophie first meet, and I loved how their past was slowly revealed without jarring the flow of the story. The story of their love for each other kept building and building. Sophie's reluctant behavior made perfect sense, and Banallt's struggle with his feelings for her just tugged at my heart. We know he has changed his rakish ways, but no one wants to believe it. Overall, a really good, heart-felt love story with a lot of chemistry and steam – just the way I like my romances.

    I hope you’re feeling better! I totally agree with you on the chemistry and steam.

    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.

  8. Sherry Thomas
    Feb 06, 2009 @ 14:30:29

    Thanks, SonomaLass. I’ll go out to the stores this weekend.

  9. My First Sale by Carolyn Jewel | Dear Author: Romance Novel Reviews, Industry News, and Commentary
    Feb 13, 2009 @ 04:00:38

    [...] in between. Carolyn Jewel writes historicals for Berkley and paranormals for Warner.  Her latest, Scandal, is in stores [...]

  10. Joyce
    Mar 02, 2009 @ 21:59:02

    Thanks for the review. I’m going to look for it this weekend.

  11. Dear Author: Romance Novel Reviews, Industry News, and Commentary » Blog Archive » REVIEW: Scandal by Carolyn Jewel
    Aug 13, 2009 @ 12:20:13

    [...] 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, [...]

  12. CONVERSATIONAL REVIEW: Indiscreet by Carolyn Jewel | Dear Author: Romance Novel Reviews, Industry News, and Commentary
    Oct 14, 2009 @ 04:01:03

    [...] 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-. [...]

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