Friday, October 11, 2013

Review: Season for Scandal by Theresa Romain

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We've previously met Jane Tindall in Season for Surrender, she's Xavier's cousin and a bit wild. Now Jane has reached her majority and received a major disappointment: she has been informed by her cousin that he does not trust her with the sum of money that he has been keeping in trust for her. Xavier has, instead, reverted the amount to a dowry and Jane can only access the money when she gets married.

But who would marry her? She's a poor relation, with very little social connections and is socially awkward -- so Jane does what Jane always does: she makes an outrageous plan to win herself a sum of money that would guarantee her independence.

Except, the plan goes awry and Jane is now ten thousand pounds in debt -- she's already gritting her teeth in anticipation of a lecture from Xavier, further confirming her unreliability.

She would have to tell her cousin Xavier what she had done. He would pay the debut, but he would box her up forever. She had proven him right; she could not be trusted. Like a lapdog, she would be leashed and admonished, and she would have no money and never travel away or be anyone else besides poor and plain Jane.
- Chapter 1

Edmund Ware, Baron Kirkpatrick, was not in the market for a wife. He just happened to be at the same house party as Jane was and had stepped in when the situation was getting out of hand. In order to save Jane, Edmund announces their betrothal -- and, in order to honor Jane's debt, Edmund offers to marry her in truth.

It should have been an easy arrangement: Jane and Edmund enter into an amicable marriage, pay off Jane's debt and live contently ever after. Except that Jane has always loved Edmund and makes the mistake of telling him of it -- this in itself shouldn't be a problem but, apparently, for Edmund, it is.

So this was what the truth would do. She had meant to keep her feelings a secret until she was sure of his, but she hadn't expected the revelation to kill his pleasure so completely.

She shivered with what should have been the remnants of passion, but instead felt like a bone-deep chill.

He pulled in a long, deep breath, pressing a fist against his abdomen. "I didn't know."

Then he turned back to her, drew the sheet up over her nude body, and sat back against the high wooden headboard.

"I didn't know," he repeated, eyes fixed upon the bed hanging. "I'm so sorry."

Jane had not thought anything could increase her humiliation. It had grown so large and palpable, it was almost like a third person in the room. Lying between the,, laughing at her. Oh, you foolish girl.

But she was wrong: the apology made the humiliation worse. The apology meant that he had not expected her to love him. That he didn't want her to love him. And why would that be?

Because there wasn't a prayer of him returning her feeling.
- Chapter 4

In most romance novels, love is the answer but, for Theresa Romain's Season for Scandal, love is the question because Edmund Ware doesn't believe he deserves love. Our hero is burdened by his mistakes and has spent his entire adult life atoning for such sins. He has become the perfect gentleman: attentive to the quietest wallflower, solicitous to the unpopular ladies, and gracious to the everyone else. All of London loves him for this, but Jane hates being at the receiving end of such kindness. This forced goodness, this cruel kindness, this suffocating politeness isn't what Jane needs from her husband -- what she needs from him is honesty. Jane wants to see Edmund and know Edmund beyond what he shows to the world but, while Edmund shares a little bit of himself with the world, he is unwilling to give more to the person who deserves it: his wife.

I enjoyed the irony of Edmund's life: the epitome of generosity and goodness is also the most selfish person in the world. While he is busy atoning for the mistakes of his past, making time for everybody, he is overlooking Jane and creating a newer problem. But Jane isn't a victim or a martyr, either -- at the beginning, she struck me as a bit self-serving with no sense of the consequences of her action. It irritated me that, when her plan failed, she immediately thought/assumed Xavier would save her. She's perfectly fine making rash decisions because there's always her cousin to fall back on. Jane needed to learn that she was liable for her own mistakes: and she learned it in the most spectacular way through her marriage to Edmund.

This was a wonderful story about two characters, growing, developing and discovering themselves. True connections and discovery of self are the central explorations of the story: while Edmund was content with his regular doses of adoration, they never seemed to satisfy him. All the good he was doing, all the acts of atonement were all an attempt to fill an unfillable hole -- and the only way to escape it was forgiveness. But whose? Jane's been trying to find her place in the world, a place where she can rest her own possessions, which are few. She was making strides in this direction when she was allowed to paint Edmund's hall green but, her progress was stopped cold when Edmund went back to his old ways and left his wife alone to her own devices.

Edmund counted to ten before he spoke. "Do you mean that you were trying to please me by agreeing to attend tonight? And that I have not yet found an activity that will please you?"

"Not an activity, exactly." She looked up at him, her eyes tawny as topaz. "You give a piece of yourself to everyone who sits at the edge of a ballroom. But ... Edmund ... you married me."


"So. Don't you think we ..." She trailed off. When she spoke again, her voice was carefully flat. "I thought we'd be together this evening. Not for the whole evening. Just part."

"I'm with you right now."

"Are you?"
- Chapter 7

It is also interesting how the word self- is used to prefix many other words, both with positive and negative connotations: self-assured vs. self-conscious, self-belief vs. self-doubt, etc. In that we see that the human self is a dichotomy: that we straddle a line between right and wrong. Though there is a villain in the story (Turner), the greater conflict is internal: Edmund must face the demons of his past and Jane must battle with her present emotional needs if she and Edmund would have a chance of a good future.

There is a sadness to Edmund and Jane's situation and a helplessness: because only the two of them can fix their marriage -- and it isn't something that can be fixed by a grand profession of love. Season for Scandal reflects on what makes a marriage work: love is a decision.

This was another wonderful, wonderful addition to Theresa Romain's Season series. There is one line in the whole novel that continues to haunt me and wring my heart a little bit each time I remember it:

If only she didn't love him, he could have made her so happy.
- Chapter 7

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