Dear Ms. Gaston,
Several years ago, I read your American debut, The Mysterious Miss M, and enjoyed it quite a bit. Unfortunately, its follow-up, The Wagering Widow, did not work quite as well for me, and I’ve not had the opportunity to read any of your other books until this one.
Scandalizing the Ton starts off a bit abruptly, as our hero, Adrian Pomroy, the Viscount Cavanley, encounters a man and woman embroiled in what he at first takes for a lovers’ quarrel in the middle of a London street.
This is in fact no lovers’ quarrel: our heroine, Lydia, otherwise known as the notorious Lady Wexin, is fending off the latest reporter trying to importune her for information. Her late husband, apparently the villain of a previous book, has left Lydia destitute and at the mercy of the scandal sheets, whose reporters camp outside her house around the clock hoping to get a scoop.
Adrian sends the reporter on his way, but Lydia has already sprained her ankle in an attempt to flee. Which necessitates Adrian escorting her back to her conveniently empty house, in fact, to her very bedroom, where the two succumb to their minutes-old lust.
Now, I am often a fan of early sex in romances; I find it creates interesting complications and gets the silly "will they or won’t they" faux-tension out of the way. But in this case, I didn’t buy it. Lydia is one of those heroines who feel instant, overwhelming desire whenever she is around the hero as a way of signaling to the reader that this is True Love. As I’m not a fan of excessive mental lusting, I found this irritating.
This book is obviously connected to at least one previous book, and while I was able to follow along okay, it included more information than I really cared to read about characters from previous books.
My chief problem, though, was with the triteness that infused the plot, characters and prose. There was nothing new or particularly interesting here, and none of it felt real to me. There were very few moments that I did not feel I had read in several historical romances before.
An example: at one point, Adrian visits a gaming hell, the proprietress of which goes by the name Madame Bisou, though she was "born Penny Jones" and the closest she’s gotten to France is drinking champagne.
A minor point, but material like this just makes me sigh. How many fake-French female entrepreneurs have I read of in romances? Too many too count. They are usually modistes; at least this one was slightly different. Still, why? The character is never mentioned again. All the one mention did was remind me of how many times I’ve read of such a character, which in turn reminded me that this book offered nothing original.
The unoriginality of the characters and their circumstances made it hard to care about them. The heroine should have been sympathetic, but she wasn’t given enough depth to allow me to feel for what she had suffered. As a result, her extremely self-pitying and martyrish behavior was just aggravating. She constantly pushed the hero away and insulted him, while thinking that he couldn’t possibly want her. The hero actually showed a lot of forbearance in putting up with her lashing out. In the course of the story, whenever the heroine encounters someone who doesn’t mistreat her because of her reputation, she acts gobsmacked, simply not understanding how these people don’t hate and revile her. It got old, fast.
The secondary characters are all one-note: either unfailingly supportive of the hero and heroine, or cartoonishly evil. The only remotely ambiguous response comes from the hero’s father, who tries to be supportive of his son’s relationship but is concerned about the heroine’s reputation. His character was made less appealing, how, by a rather bizarre and prurient preoccupation with his son’s sex life.
There is a secondary romance, between the heroine’s maid and one of the newspaper reporters who are hounding the heroine, but I found that one even more irksome than the main one. The maid has the annoying habit of referring to the heroine as “my lady” even in conversations with others, and the reporter really behaves abominably: seducing the maid for information while seemingly aware of what a cad he is being. His epiphany at the end that, geez, maybe he is doing something wrong was unconvincing, since it had already been established that he knew he was doing something wrong and did it anyway.
About the reporters: they act much, much more like modern paparazzi than anything that I would expect from the 19th century. Maybe it’s an accurate portrayal (reporters hanging around the heroine’s house day and night, shouting questions to her when she enters or exits the house), but it struck a false note with me.
I really regret having to give Scandalizing the Ton such a low grade. I thought for a while I would at least be able to give it a technically passing C-, but the weight of the cliches and paint-by-numbers, paper-thin characterizations force me to give it a D+.