A Scandalous Journey
like to try traditional Regencies by debut authors whenever I can. As the Mary Baloghs and Diane Farrs move on to single titles, I can’t help hoping that someone will step up to fill their shoes. A Scandalous Journey isn’t that break-out, “wow” book I was hoping for, but it’s not bad either. For a debut book, it’s encouraging.
George Winterbrook, Earl of Weymouth, regains consciousness and discovers that his hands are bound. His surroundings look familiar, but he can’t quite figure out where he is. He is astonished when he is informed that he is scheduled to be married to his scheming sister-in-law Arabella, a woman ruined by divorce and desperate to reestablish herself in society. She has also arranged the kidnapping of his beloved niece, and threatens to harm her if her demands are not met.
Miss Beth Castleton is in a similar predicament. The henchmen who kidnapped George’s niece, Isabelle, kidnapped her as well, thinking she was Isabelle’s governess. She has been unconscious for days and has a nasty bump on her head. When Beth discovers that George is her partner in captivity, she is not exactly thrilled. George gave her the direct cut upon their first meeting, and although they subsequently played some violin duets together, they have never been the best of friends. Since they share a common desire to escape, both are willing to put the past behind them. Two of Arabella’s servants are willing to join them, so they hatch a plan.
Their escape goes slightly awry when Beth is shot, but they manage to escape with their lives and Arabella’s only decent carriage. From there they take off, traversing Scotland and heading toward London. They stay in the homes of friends and the occasional inn as they try to avoid detection and help Beth’s wounded shoulder to heal. George has a friend who is willing to help, and he travels with them for part of the journey.
When the group arrives in London, Beth is restored to her guardians (an aunt and uncle), and everyone agrees that the best course is to hush up what happened so no one’s reputation is compromised. George feels duty-bound to offer for Beth, but she refuses him; she wants to marry for love, and she knows that his dream is to do the same. But as Beth goes through the motions of her first season, she realizes that she does love George. She doesn’t think he will ever feel the same. Of course, George really is coming to love Beth, but like many men, he doesn’t realize his feelings until it is almost too late. Meanwhile, the evil Arabella has not finished with her scheming, and Beth’s reputation might still be in danger.
The title of this book implies a lot of action and perhaps a road romance. It does have a little of both, but much of the book takes place in London, and a lot of the plot is slower-paced than one would think. I never found it dull, exactly, but it is quiet, and is probably more suited to fans of contemplative Regencies.
Both the main characters are basically likable, and the supporting cast is appealing as well. George’s friend Elston appears to have some secrets of his own, which made him look like major sequel material to me. Beth is actually an American, and Carleton does a fairly good job with her character (my colleague Robin, who complained about the treatment of Americans in England in a recent ATBF, would probably approve of Beth). George is an all-around nice guy; he’s a man of action when he needs to be, but he’s not the overbearing, chest thumping type.
The Regency feel seems pretty accurate here, although there is probably a little more cant than usual. Carleton struck me as an author who had read her Heyer. Probably the biggest strength of the book is the treatment of Beth’s reputation, which is quite appropriate to the time. Her journey back to London is necessary and not of her own design, but it’s still improper. For once, everyone seems to be really concerned about this, which is a nice change.
I found the slow pace to be something of a setback at times, but the major flaw in the book lies in its villain. Arabella is so over-the-top-psycho that she’s simply unbelievable. And she just gets more ridiculous as the book goes on. It all ends with a scene that occurs offstage but is so ridiculous that it’s laughable. If the whole book had been full of drama and hyperbole, Arabella might have been a little easier to take, but since it was otherwise quite realistic, she seemed very much out of place.
While on the whole I found A Scandalous Journey only slightly above average, for a debut Regency I would consider it promising. The mistakes in pacing and characterization seemed like rookie flubs to me, and I’m hopeful that Carleton’s next effort will be better. I intend to give her next book a try, and I’ll be keeping my fingers crossed.