Friday, February 13, 2015

Book Review: Lord of Scoundrels by Loretta Chase


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***This review contains spoilers.***
***This review contains spoilers.***
***This review contains spoilers.***



It's hard to write about a book that's held the #1 position in the Top 100 historical romance for 4 consecutive polls since 2004. So let's get the following questions out of the way:

Did I like the book? Yes.
Would I consider it my #1 historical romance novel? No.
Is this a good love story? Yes.
Is this the best love story I've ever read? No.

I really liked Jessica Trent and how comfortable she was in her skin. She understood herself, her family's status, her abilities and limits, and she was fine with her place in society. She was a "picker" gifted with a great eye for finding treasure, and this is what brings her to the attention of Sebastian, the Marquess of Dain. During one of her hunts, she finds a really mucky/grimy/muddy piece of curiosity. Everyone was telling her it was trash, but Jessica's instincts told her otherwise, and she bought it.

After she has the piece cleaned and restored, it is discovered that what Jessica has is a very valuable Russian icon, and promises to bring in a huge sum of money when sold. It is never explained, but Dain wants the piece (is he a collector?), and, when Jessica approaches Dain to ask him to stay away from her brother, Bertie, he asks for the icon as the price for his compliance.

Chase plays on the Beauty and the Beast theme, and Dain is a literal beast (described as being dark-skinned, with a big, beaked nose, and a huge body), and we know that, somewhere along the way, there will be a transformation that will change this "beast" into a "man" -- and it's part of what makes this a really compelling read. I kept trying to picture Dain in my mind, and I wondered if he was really as monstrous and "ill-formed" as he was described -- but even how he was described in the book is a bit unreliable: it was either his father or the bullies of his childhood or Dain himself who provided the description. When we see Dain through Jessica's eyes (or through her grandmother's), he didn't seem to be that unattractive from their point of view. Who do we believe? Perhaps that's what makes this book so attractive: that the reader's imagination is really engaged and challenged by the author's storytelling, that we participate in the storytelling.

Bertie had told her Dain was a very large man. She had half expected a hulking gorilla. She had not been prepared for a stallion: big and splendidly proportioned -- and powerfully muscled, if what his snug trousers outlined was any indication. She should not have been looking there, even if it was only an instant's glance, but a physique like that demanded one's attention and drew it ... everywhere.

...

... Her body commenced a repeat of the slow simmer she had first experienced moments earlier and had not yet fully recovered from.

She would have to have a long talk with Genevieve, she told herself. These sensations could not possibly be what Jessica suspected they were.
- pages 30-31

Dain embodies everything one should avoid in a potential husband (or even friend), but Jessica still sees something attractive in this man who doesn't find himself attractive. It was quite painful reading about how Dain would refer to himself as monstrous and a "thing" -- it's heartbreaking to read this, and even more so when one imagines the psychological and emotional suffering Dain had to endure growing up. It isn't surprising that Dain turned into this cold, ruthless man. It reminds me of the question posed by Wicked: The Musical Are people born wicked? Or do they have wickedness thrust upon them? In Dain's case, it was something exterior that prompted him to act as a scoundrel, so it stands to reason that something exterior will reform him.

He not only behaved like a monster -- albeit never quite badly enough before authority figures to be expelled -- but had become one in physical fact: well over six feet tall and every inch dark and brutally hard.
- page 13

While this book might not be on my Top 10, Jessica Trent would definitely be in my Top 5 Favourite Heroines of all time. She's beautiful and unconventional, she exudes femininity and power -- and she wasn't afraid to shoot the Marquess of Dain. Jessica was consistently portrayed from beginning to end: she is gifted with a discerning eye, but an even more discerning heart. I especially loved her relationship with her grandmother. (How old is Genevieve? The story is a bit vague about this, but I'm intrigued because she's such a great mix of alluring, wise, and fun.)

"... We have always been more like sisters or very best friends than grandmama and grandchild, have we not? It is as your sister and friend that I tell you Dain is a splendid catch. I advise you to set your hooks and reel him in."

Jessica took a long swallow of her cognac. "This is not a trout, Genevieve. This is a great, hungry shark."

"Then use a harpoon."
- pages 43-44

* * *

She would have him and keep him if it killed her. A monster he may be, but he was her monster. She would not share his stormy kisses with anyone else. She would not share his big, splendid body with anyone else.
- p. 154

There's a lot going on in Lord of Scoundrels, but the author does a good job of connecting these with each other to make a seamless story:
1. Jessica discovers a very valuable Russian icon, which Dain (and a number of other people who know about it) want.
2. Jessica wants to remove her brother, Bertie, from Dain's influence, and Dain's asking price is the Russian icon.
3. Jessica and Dain are fiercely attracted to each other, but neither one wants to act on it. When they do, their reputations are ruined.
4. When they eventually get married, Jessica wages a battle to gain some ground in Dain's heart.
5. When Dominick, Dain's illegitimate son appears, it adds a bit of complication in the story.
6. Dominick's mother and her lover hatch a plan to "earn" some money

Which leads me to why I didn't like this book as much as I should: there's just so much happening to Dain and Jessica, that they don't really have a chance to have things happen between them. Granted that all these events are all necessary pieces of the puzzle, but it still didn't complete the puzzle. There's physical attraction and grudging affection (on Dain's end) -- but, love? They argued and made love the same amount of times, but I wonder about intimacy, because I felt that there was still some distance between the two: Dain seemed to live a separate life, and Jessica was just tagging along. (And Jessica made decisions, and then eventually conferred with Dain about them.)

The one part that I felt was nicely resolved was the matter of Dain's illegitimate son, Dominick. This one signalled Dain's gradual break from his terrible childhood: history was doomed to repeat itself, but Jessica's intervention has given Dain a chance to change the path of his son's future. I was actually a bit annoyed with Dain and how he thought about and talked about his son -- but I saw a gradual softening in him (and so I forgave him for all the cruel things he said about his own son). This was also another opportunity to show just how amazing Jessica is -- Dain, his former mistress (and the world) were all expecting Jessica to reject Dominick and to cause a scene. She did cause a scene, but for very different reasons: she wanted the boy.

It was all because of the unspeakable thing he'd made with Charity Graves.

It did not matter to Jessica that the thing was as foul inwardly as it was hideous outwardly, that there was not a scrap of good it could have inherited from its depraved monster of a sire and its vicious whore of a mother. It would not have mattered to Jessica if the thing had two heads and maggots crawling out of its ears -- which, in Dain's view, would make it no more repellant than it already was. It might have crawled on its belly and been covered with green slime and it would be all the same to Jessica: Dain has made it; therefore, Dain must take care of it.
- p. 280

This book was first published in 1995, and, 20 years later, it's a book that has withstood the test of time -- there's a very classic quality to the book and touches on very relevant themes even for the 21st century. Despite my questions, this book entertained and engaged me ... and the review of it challenged me (in a good way). ^_^

Lord of Scoundrels is Book 3 in Loretta Chase's Scoundrels series. To find out more about Loretta Chase and her books, click below:
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