A Perfect Scoundrel
The Perfect Scoundrel isn’t really an historical romance set in the Regency period. It’s more like a Regency Romance with sex and more pages. I liked it quite a lot and if the Signet Lords of Love series produces other traditional Regencies livened up with a bit more sex, and the depth that extra chapters can provide, I’m all for it. Nevertheless, if you dislike Regencies, with their distinctive language, multiple characters and familiar settings this book is not for you.
The Perfect Scoundrel begins with fourth Season spinster Jane Wentworth mooning silently after Quentin, her stepsister Clarissa’s suitor. On the night of a masked ball, Clarissa is taken ill. Due to a series of mishaps, Jane decides to wear Clarissa’s costume. Quentin meanwhile is scheming to compromise Clarissa to force her into marriage. When he sees Jane at the ball he mistakes her for Clarissa, hustles her out to the garden and begins kissing her. You can just imagine how angry and humiliated Quentin is to discover that he has trapped the wrong girl into marriage.
But on the day that Quentin and Jane are married, this light, humorous Regency takes an unfunny turn. On their wedding night he becomes disgustingly and furiously drunk. When he comes to Jane that night, she mistakes his reluctance for nerves and tries to comfort him with affection. In a shocking scene, Quentin brutally rapes Jane and leaves her sobbing. Not long after this he banishes her to his ramshackle estate.
Jane is astonished and frightened when Quentin arrives a few months later. Apparently Quentin’s father has insisted that he go to Jane for a few months and try to make the marriage work. Quentin has no intention of making a go of the marriage, but he has no choice but to spend a few months with his wife.
I’ve read about many mean heroes this year. Quentin is certainly in the top two or three and he’s bound to be controversial. I have to hand it to the author – when she wants to make a hero repulsive, she doesn’t flinch.
One reason this book worked for me in spite, or perhaps even because, of Quentin’s flaws, was that the book portrayed him as bad and not just tortured. Quentin’s behavior was too horrible to brush away with explanations of a difficult childhood and Cullman seems to know that. The transformation of Quentin from dissolute rake to loving husband is slow and satisfying. It’s fair to say that the first half of this book describes a poor excuse for a man, while the second half describes a man who learns to grow up. If you can’t abide a genuinely reprehensible hero who reforms, you’re going to have trouble with this book. I like that kind of hero as long as I’m convinced that the change is real. In this case I was convinced, but Quentin was a test of my taste in this regard.
Just as Quentin changes from a shallow selfish rake, Jane blooms into her own person when she is away from the London social scene. I had some problems with Jane’s character. I understood that she was an unusually good and gentle person, but I found it surprising that she didn’t work harder to guard her heart after Quentin’s vicious behavior. Jane seems to become not only more self confident, but smarter as the novel goes on. Then there is the little matter of the passionate reconciliation when Jane is seven months pregnant. Yes, I know that many pregnant women have great sex lives, but having been pregnant twice I could not but shake my head in amazement at the ease with which these two came together. Ah, if only life was like a romance novel. . . .
This is the first time that I’ve read Heather Cullman’s work. Not only was it fun to read, it included a fair amount of interesting historical detail about living in the countryside during the Regency era. I do hope she writes more of these new longer, sexier regencies. If she does I’ll be looking for them.