REVIEW: When Marrying a Scoundrel by Kathryn Smith
This is a review from lazaraspaste, one of our guest reviewers for the summer. Next Tuesday we’ll do an introduction of all the new summer reviewers.
Dear Ms. Smith:
Having read boat loads of romances over the years has taught me something about titles. Essentially, any romance novel’s title will either reveal or conceal the actual contents of the book. Some books’ titles tell you exactly what to expect as a reader. They let you know, quite clearly, what sort of romance you are about to read. This is not the case with your new book, When Marrying a Scoundrel. It is a title that suggests many things to me and alone, without reading the back blurb, I would have guessed that this might be a story of the spinster/rake variety, a tale of a scoundrel tamed. Moreover, there’s something rather Regency-esque about the word “scoundrel,” perhaps because my mind has been conditioned to associate certain adjectives and nouns with certain historical periods. Scoundrel just sounds like it ought to be set in the Regency period.
But neither of these first impressions turned out to be true. Delightfully, this book was not about a spinster and a rake or an unhappy debutante and a fortune hunter. There was, in fact, no marrying going on. Instead, we get the story of an estranged couple who meet again after a ten year long separation. The marriage of the title has already taken place. Further unseating my expectations, the book was not set in the Regency period but in the late 1870’s. How refreshing! Despite many new authors writing Victorian era romances, they are still outnumbered by the Regency. Napoleon may have failed to conquer Russia–having been dead for nearly 200 years– but that has not prevented him from near total conquest of Romancelandia. Viva La France!
In any case, I’m always happy to see time periods other than the Regency (though I am fond of it) and I’m equally glad to see a story about reunited lovers.
Sadie Moon, né O’Rourke, is London’s most fashionable fortune-teller. She reads tea-leaves for the ton, both at private parties and at Saint’s Row, a kind of miniature Las Vegas or indoor Vauxhall where the bohemian and bourgeoisie can rub up against the aristocracy. In some cases, literally and in the shadowy recesses of the back garden. The novel begins here, with Sadie waiting for her next client.
“It was bad luck to tell your own fortune. Sadie Moon had known this from a very young age, ever since Granny O’Rourke first set her on her knee and showed her the images made from the tiny brown leaves on the bottom of the teacup. When Granny had asked her how the images made her feel, Sadie hadn’t hesitated to peer inside the rim and take a good look.
And then she promptly burst into tears.
Sadie had seen a casket–her mother’s. Less than six months later her mother was dead, leaving Sadie and her two older brothers to Granny’s care.
Nothing good ever came from trying to read the leaves at the bottom of your own cup. A fact Sadie would have done well to remember before absently turning over her cup on its saucer, and spinning it three times widdershins before righting it and peering inside.”
That, I have to say, is a good beginning, even a strong one. You avoid the opening info dump so common to many authors and manage to make me immediately interested in what Sadie sees. What Sadie sees is the face of her long-estranged husband, Jack Farrington, who shows up that night under the new moniker of Jack Friday. He is older, richer and resentful. The story that follows is a pleasant and enjoyable read. I liked both Sadie and Jack and enjoyed seeing them come together. Unfortunately, I think that the strongest part of the book is the beginning. I have three quibbles about the meat of the story.
First, the secondary characters were a veritable who’s who of future heroes and heroines. And while this is standard practice in romance, I don’t particularly feel like playing a Where’s Waldo? with the supporting cast. For example, the best friend Indara seemed to be there and half-Indian for no apparent reason. She was conveniently present as the plot demanded but otherwise was unnecessary. Certain descriptions about her suggested she may have a future novel of her own. Of course, I could be wrong about that but that’s how it felt. Obviously, the Duke of Ryeton and his duchess, Rose have already had their book and I’m assuming all the Kane brothers would eventually have their own as well. That’s fine. I expect that. But their inclusion in this story at times felt forced and unnecessary. Like the cameo appearance of a character from the previous half-hour’s sitcom on the next half-hour’s, it smacked a little of Sweeps week.
The second two quibbles are connected. Quite frankly author, there seemed to be no purpose in making Jack and Sadie Irish. In fact, it worked against you. The main conflict in Jack and Sadie’s marriage is the class difference between them. Jack’s abandonment of Sadie ten years before is based on that difference–though perhaps not in the way the reader might expect. Still, it is at the heart of their misunderstanding and their hurt. Had they been English, the class difference would have been just that–a matter of class. But in making them Irish, you dipped into a period of Irish/English history that probably should have been left alone. In the late Victorian period, the Irish Question was intensifying–to say the least–and the class difference would not have merely been the division between nobility and commoner but Protestant and Catholic. Or to put it another way, their class difference would have been the measure of their religious difference. In all likelihood, Sadie would have been a Catholic and Jack a Protestant. I’m no historian and I’m sure there are/were exceptions to this, but not many. You did not touch on this point in any way, shape or form. The question of Sadie’s fortune-telling abilities was more a part of the contentions between the two than the religious difference. That would have been fine, but the time period and their nationality definitely made me question their religion. Protestant and Catholic relations are some of the most defining elements of Irish politics and identity, even today. Or so many The Cranberries albums have lead me to believe.
In any case, the Irish religion thing did not detract from my enjoyment of the book overall. I did feel the book was about a chapter more than it should have been. . . though not necessarily the last chapter. Sadie just held on to her objections way too long and I think it would have been more understandable had the matter been not just about class, but religion.
Regardless, the book was a good and entertaining read. I spent a very pleasant afternoon with it, ensconced in my chair listening to the rain against the window and reading about how Jack and Sadie forgave each other and got back together. B-
This is a mass market published by Avon Books, part of the Agency five.