A Scandalous Countess
Grade : B

In 1763, England passed a law fixing the minimum age for marriage at 16, with parental consent needed for anyone under 21. During the Georgian Period, the average age of marriage was 27. Teenage brides were anomalous. One can understand why when reading Jo Beverley’s latest novel, A Scandalous Countess. Her heroine, Georgia, is just twenty and after almost three years of marriage, a widow.

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// ]]> Georgie was an immature bride — she was wed to a neighbor three years her senior when she was 16 — and is an immature widow. Her husband was killed in a duel over what many believe was Georgie’s infidelity. She’s young, lovely, and after her year of mourning, desperate to regain her place in society. She’s too immature to live on her own — although under the law, she could — and yet she longs for the freedom she had while married. She wants a new husband, preferably one with a title and lots of money to buy the outrageous gowns for which she is known.

Lord Dracy has neither money nor an impressive title. He abruptly left the naval life he loved when his fribble of a cousin, the previous Lord Dracy, died after bankrupting the family holdings. Dracy has come to Devon and is trying to raise funds to rebuild his estate. One of the only things his cousin left was a fast filly named Cartagena. Dracy brings Cartagena to Georgia’s father’s estate, Herne, to race her against the Earl of Hernscroft’s famous bay mare, Fancy Free. The race is winner takes all — whoever wins gets both horses. Dracy wants to win but not to gain Fancy Free. He plans to ask the Earl to instead give him one of the Earl’s stud horses, a prize breeder named Gosling-go. Dracy wins the race but, when he sits down to talk about the trade — the Earl really doesn’t want to part with Fancy Free — Dracy is distressed to find that earlier in the week, Gosling-go had to be put down. The Earl then offers Dracy a trade for a different filly: his daughter. If Darcy marries the young widow, he’ll get her portion of twelve thousand pounds, cash in hand, the day he weds her. As the Earl points out, Dracy could buy a herd of stallions with that kind of blunt.

Dracy is shocked to hear the Earl’s proposal. The Earl points out that his daughter, who was wild when married (although faithful), is likely to return to her scandalous ways when she’s let loose on the ton again and would probably end up married to a “blackguard.” He’s looked into Dracy’s background, and feels Dracy is a trustworthy, solid man. The Earl laughs and says, “You’re the type she needs. A man of iron, used to command.” The Earl urges Dracy to take his offer; the Earl can keep his beloved horse, rid himself of a troublesome, scandalous daughter, and Dracy can wed and bed a gorgeous young girl and gain twelve thousand pounds.

Georgia knows nothing of her father’s offer and Dracy is sure she will reject him if he tries to court her. For starters, the right side of his face is horribly scarred from an awful burn — it’s the sort of disfigurement that discomfits most. He’s also aware of Georgia’s reputation for extravagance and doubts a penniless ex-sailor would have any appeal to her. Because Georgia is a widow, despite her youth and the fact that she lives under her father’s roof, she theoretically can marry whomever she chooses. Dracy doubts she’ll choose him but, he agrees to come to dine at Herne that night.

The two meet and Dracy is profoundly drawn to her beauty and her wit. She likes him but finds his ruined appearance hard to take. Furthermore, since she knows nothing of her father’s machinations, she doesn’t even think of him as a suitor for her. All she wants is to finally return to Town, snare a duke or two, and return to her carefree, feted life.

She is shocked to be told by her father, the next morning, that she most certainly will not be heading back to London any time soon. She is to go with her mother to visit her sister Winnie and family in Hammersmith. Georgia is less than thrilled with this plan. She and Winnie have never gotten along. However, it is closer to London than Devon and her sister plans to hold a ball in Georgia’s honor to which the ton will be invited. Georgia and her mother head to her sister’s home and begin to send out invitations to the upcoming ball.

Georgia is rather startled to see her mother address an invitation to Lord Dracy, who has come to Town to settle some affairs regarding his estate. Her mother tells her they can help Dracy make his way in society. Georgia doesn’t know why her mother would do such a thing for someone so much lower in social status, but assumes it has something to do with her father’s trying to talk Dracy out of taking away Fancy Free. Her mother tells her that Georgia will be allowed to go to London for the day if she takes Dracy as her escort and helps him purchase attire appropriate for the ball. Georgia agrees — thrilled to have a chance to go to Town - and vows to this time, “not let a trace of her unease about his disfigurement show.”

Thus their courtship — of which she is unaware — starts. As Georgia begins what she believes will be a triumphant return to society, she is devastated to realize the scandal around her husband’s death still tars her. It’s clear, in fact, someone is working hard to not only keep the memory of duel very much alive in the minds of the ton but to make all believe Georgia instigated the duel by promising her jewels and her body to the man — since then vanished - who stabbed her husband through the heart. Georgia is young, self-absorbed, and enamored of her own beauty and is unprepared to handle the opprobrium she encounters at every turn. Thus, she turns again and again to Dracy to help her face the snubs, barbs, and venomous gossip she faces wherever she goes. She begins to rely on him, first to give her courage, and then to help her unmask whomever it is who continues to tarnish her reputation.

Dracy wants her for his wife, so it works to his purposes to both be her comfort and her savior. He, and the reader, quickly figure out who the villain is, and with the help of Georgia’s very interesting brother Peregrine Perriam — I think he’s probably a spy — Dracy employs his considerable intellect to discerning how and why the villain engineered the duel and how his campaign of calumny may be stopped. This plot line is, at best, slightly engaging.

The heart of the book is a slow and detailed exposition on Georgia’s changing feelings. Despite her marriage, she’s never known romantic love or passionate desire, and Dracy is determined to make her feel both for him. He woos her in every way he can. He’s not quite thirty but he is vastly more mature and experienced than she. Before his burn, he was a fine-looking man and learned much about the bodies and hearts of women in his travels. He lures her with kisses, with humor, and with his innate goodness. He is a lovely hero — he won’t marry her, despite her father’s offer, unless she not only loves him but believes she will be happy living with him in Devon in his rundown home, deprived of fancy gowns and London’s vibrant social scene. Georgia is so young and, in many ways, unformed. Dracy sees — more so than I could — the mature woman she could become.

I liked their love story. I could say Dracy deserves better, but I feel sure he would disagree. He loves her. She is the wife he woos (at times, quite sexily), wants, and, works hard to win. Georgia is a lucky woman; and I was happy to see that, by the story’s end, she understands what a prize she has in Dracy. She comes quite late to wanting to marry him and her decision to do so seems almost capricious. Which, I suppose, it is. She is, after all, little more than a teen in this novel - it seems believable that one day, she just changes her mind.

Ms. Beverley is an excellent writer and, in this book, she does a nice job of showing the society, upstairs and downstairs, in which her characters live. Those who enjoy their historicals to be rich in accurate period detail will relish this book.

Reviewed by Dabney Grinnan
Grade : B

Sensuality: Warm

Review Date : March 6, 2012

Publication Date: 2012/02

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Dabney Grinnan

Impenitent social media enthusiast. Relational trend spotter. Enjoys both carpe diem and the fish of the day. Publisher at AAR.
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