Love and Other Scandals
Caroline Linden’s Love and Other Scandals is the best historical romance I’ve read this summer. Joan Bennet, the spinster heroine, has a sharper tongue and a sharper mind. The louche hero, Tristan Burke, is witty and wicked. Together, they are an engaging couple whose path to true love is sweet, believable, interesting, and sexy. Plus, there’s a balloon ride!
Joan and Tristan first meet when Joan is eight and Tristan twelve. Tristan is up from Eton for the holiday with Joan’s brother Douglas. Joan is asleep in her room when Tristan bursts into her room, shirtless and carrying a single red rose. The second time they meet, it’s at Tristan’s uncle’s funeral. Tristan, now Lord Burke, is a tall moody man who has already began to garner a reputation as a rake. When Joan approaches him and tells him she’s sorry for his loss, he kvetches to her about the way his relatives and society gossip about him. She asks him why, as an independent man, he cares.
His mouth twisted. “You don’t understand.”
Joan heaved a sigh. “No, of course I don’t. I could never possibly understand what it’s like to be a gentleman with my own fortune, able to do as I please with no one to say me nay. Heaven preserve me from such unbearable oppression.”
He looked at her, perhaps really paying attention to her for the first time. “You’re quite impertinent.”
She beamed at him, instead of smacking him across the face as her hand itched to do. “Thank you.”
Tristan Burke stared at her, and then he laughed. His deep green eyes lit up and a wide grin creased his face, sharpening a dimple in his cheek. He looked full of joy in that moment, and Joan’s smile faded away as she stared at him.
“I’ll remember you, Joan Bennet,” he said. “I like an impertinent girl.”
The third time Joan meets Tristan, she’s 24. Tristan is staying with her dissolute (but essentially kind) brother Douglas in the latter’s town home while Tristan repairs his own. Joan’s mother has decided that Douglas simply must attend the Malcom Ball the next night so that he may dance with – and, if Mrs. Bennet has anything to do with it, marry – a nice young lady named Felicity. Joan knows Douglas would rather be kicked in the face by his horse than go to a marriage mart ball and so, being the lovely sweet sister she is, Joan volunteers to go to her brother’s and relay her mother’s command. (She’s especially gleeful about the prospect of waking him up from a hangover.)
Joan, who is unescorted because she is only supposed to call upon her brother, arrives at his house right after breakfast and bangs on the door. She’s startled when a shirtless man yanks it open. She realizes it’s Tristan, needles him about his rude behavior, shoves past him, and waltzes up the steps to her brother’s room. There she throws open his curtains, makes as much noise as she possible can, and happily badgers her brother. Just as she’s tormenting Douglas by deliberately prattling on at him about what color gown she might wear to the Malcom ball, Tristan appears in the doorway, wrapped in a deep green dressing gown and says, “Gold. You should wear gold.”
Tristan, who is a connoisseur of women, is right. Joan should wear gold. He in fact thinks she should wear anything but the current girlish fashions she wears. Joan is tall, voluptuous and handsome. The clothes, hats, and hairstyles she stuffs herself into don’t suit her at all. Joan dimly realizes this but can’t figure out what would show her charms to best advantage. Tristan’s comment makes her self-conscious and she speaks tartly to him and then returns to making her brother’s morning worse by forcing him to sign a note addressed to their mother in which Douglas promises to attend the ball. Note in hand, Joan sweeps out of Douglas’s home and heads to the place she truly wants to go: a bookstore on Bond Street where a copy of the naughty pamphlet “50 Ways to Sin” can be bought. (I decided to squelch my irritation at this 50 Shades intrusion. There’s nothing else in the story that smacks of 50 Shades – I think it must have been a poorly chosen marketing ploy.)
Begged by Douglas to follow Joan and take back his note, Tristan surprises Joan in the bookstore. Joan refuses to give him the missive and Tristan irritates her further by pointing out the striped pink gown she’s wearing makes her easy to track from blocks away. Joan, indignant, leaves him and the pamphlet she’d come to collect. Tristan, collects the wrapped package (he doesn’t know what it is) and decides to attend the Malcom ball so that he may return it to her.
From then on, the two begin a very unconventional courtship. Tristan has no intention of marrying anyone, especially not his best friend’s sister who is both a virgin and, as he calls her, a Fury. Tristan, despite enjoying matching wits with Joan, feels she’s the sort of girl he should stay far far away from. However, when the elder Bennets abruptly leave town due to Mrs. Bennet’s declining health and Douglas is dispatched by his father to the country to check on work being done their country estate, Douglas asks Tristan if he’ll occasionally check up on Joan and make sure she’s not too lonely. Tristan knows this is a bad idea, but, unable to say no to Douglas, agrees he will escort Joan around town. Joan’s wild aunt is acting as Joan’s chaperone and, between the freedom Aunt Evangeline gives her and the mischief Tristan talks her into, Joan finds herself having the time of her life.
Ms. Linden rarely hits a false note in Love and Other Scandals. The sweetly battled war of wits and wiles between Tristan and Joan reminds me of the best of Julia Quinn. The secondary characters – especially Joan’s two best friends – are fleshed out and add to the story. I especially liked all the information Ms. Linden gives about the new technologies in residential building of the time. Tristan is building a new house and, as he tells Joan all about its innovations, the reader learns many an interesting tidbit.
I like my love stories to have heat in them and, here too, Ms. Linden does not disappoint. Joan and Tristan have great chemistry together (and apart, when thinking about each other). I’ve read far too many historical romances where the virginal heroine is putty in the hands of the accomplished rake. (Yawn.) Joan – in part because of her pamphlet reading and her chats with her friends – is informed about sex but doesn’t understand desire. Tristan knows all about sex but nothing about love. Together, the two discover passionate love as equals and – which I loved – with humor.
I firmly recommend Love and Other Scandals. The novel, with its blend of ardor and amusement, gets an A- from me.