A Scandal to Remember
The newest in Linda Needham’s series of Gentleman Rogues romances features all the elements of a fairytale – a beautiful princess in exile, a brave rescuing hero, history, folklore, and even the promise of a palace. And even though this one has a few plotting issues and runs out of steam towards the end, there are still many things to like here. For starters, the hero and heroine are both wonderful characters.
Andrew Chase, Earl of Wexford, is a secret agent for the Crown. As the novel opens, he is ordered to protect Princess Caroline, the Empress-elect of Boratania. Wexford assumes she is just another spoiled and arrogant royal, so he is not enthusiastic about his job. Still, despite his feelings, he must be diligent since it appears that someone is determined to assassinate Caroline before she can be crowned and, further, Wexford must prevent the young princess from learning a state secret that could have grave implications for her.
However, as Wexford shadows Caroline and eventually moves himself and his operatives into her home, he learns that there is more to this princess than he thought since, along with her beauty and royal bearing, Princess Caroline is intelligent, compassionate, and dedicated to preserving the heritage of her country. Against his better judgment, Wexford finds himself ever more drawn to her, despite knowing that as a royal she would never be able to marry a non-royal.
Caroline is a very likable heroine. Though she is in exile, she knows her exile is near an end and has spent years immersing herself in all things Boratanian, preparing herself for the day she will rule over the tiny state. She is a feisty, high-spirited heroine, but not entirely lacking in common sense. Though strong-willed, she will listen to the opinions of those around her, making her more likable than some of the more bull-headed heroines readers may encounter. Indeed, Caroline comes to find herself very interested in Wexford’s knowledge and opinions – and also in the man himself.
The hero and heroine are what really make this book. Because of their stations as Empress-elect and bodyguard, there is not a lot of touching or physical heat between Caroline and Wexford, but Needham makes the attraction and the romantic tension crystal clear. Though the initial “lusting-in-the-shrubbery” scene falls a little flat, most of the interactions between Caroline and Wexford are fraught with tension. The reader can see it in the way Caroline talks to Wexford, in Wexford’s absolute devotion to Caroline and her safety, and even in the glances passed between the two.
With so much going for it, you might wonder why this book garners only a C+. Even though Wexford and Caroline are likable, the secondary characters are largely lackluster with the author, unfortunately, relying on some of the less cherished clichés of historical romance in order to flesh out her story. The main assassination and romance plots are quite interesting, but the addition of charming waifs, loyal old gentlemen (who are, of course, cuddly, sweet, and harmless), obligatory cameos by characters from other novels, and a motley (but still sweet and charming) assortment of thug-servants take away from the charm of the book. And, of course, the heroine must seek to be best friends with her maid!
In addition, even though the book is set during the opening of the Great Exhibition at the Crystal Palace in 1851, the history is strictly wallpaper. While those who like meatier historical descriptions will find this disappointing, even readers preferring wallpaper history might find themselves confused since real figures come in and out of the story with little explanation as to who they are. Most readers will recognize Queen Victoria, but Palmerston (an MP serving as foreign secretary in 1851 who was later Prime Minister) will be less well-known. Since Palmerston plays a fairly important part in the story, some brief explanation (even an author’s note or Afterword) of his significance would have been helpful.
Beyond these criticisms, the story really went downhill in the last few chapters, a fact which garners A Scandal to Remember a less enthusiastic recommendation. Ultimately, if you can live with the lackluster secondary characters, wallpaper history of the most confusing kind, and a less than stellar ending, Wexford and Caroline are certainly worth meeting.