A Scandalous Lady
I’ve always liked Cinderella stories. A young, lower-class woman improves herself and wins the prince of her dreams in the process… what a wonderful fantasy. Cinderella stories, however, can be less than believable if the woman transforms herself too rapidly, and that’s part of the trouble with A A Scandalous Lady. Add to that characters whose behavior defies logic, along with holes in the plot you could toss a cow through, and you wind up with an inconsistent, unconvincing romance.
Fanny Jervais is a pickpocket, known to her friends as Light-Fingered Fanny, living on the streets of London. She chooses the wrong mark when she attempts to pick the pocket of an impoverished baron, Troyce de Meir. Though she successfully takes his two hundred pounds and passes them off to an accomplice, Troyce catches the young thief and forcibly takes her on as a servant, much to Fanny’s disgust. (She says with annoyance, “Oh, crikey, if things ain’t bad enough, I’m being nobbled by a bloody reformist.”) At first he thinks she’s a boy, but he realizes his mistake quickly and guesses she’s a young woman of fifteen or so. Once he sees her cleaned up, however, he realizes she’s a beautiful – albeit severely undernourished – and fully adult woman, and he’s immediately struck with lust. Fanny decides to shed her unbringing, work at a more refined accent, and call herself by her real name, Faith. One day, she decides, she will “become something grander than an aristocrat’s scrub maid.”
Faith immediately runs afoul of the Baron’s sister, Devon, Duchess of Brayton, who doesn’t like the fact that her brother has taken in this waif, leading to a couple of very amusing altercations between Faith and Devon. Another subplot running through this story is the fact that Faith’s twin sister, Aniste/Honesty (the heroine of An Unlikely Lady) is combing England to find her sister. Faith was abandoned as a four-year-old, and Aniste apparently has just been apprised of her existence. I haven’t read An Unlikely Lady, but this book stands fairly well on its own, although the explanation of how Faith got separated from her family could have been a bit clearer.
Troyce isn’t a particularly compelling hero, although his love for rebuilding old ships is certainly an unusual passion. That’s virtually his only distinguishing feature, however. Like any standard romance hero, Troyce is too proud to marry a rich wife. He has no love for the title he’s inherited, but is beginning to realize he has an obligation to his villagers to try to save his land. Unfortunately, the villagers despise him so much they stone him whenever he comes into the village. It’s up to Faith to win over the villagers, which she does with hard work and stubborn persistence.
The characters are bland and ordinary, but Morgan’s pleasant writing style could have compensated for that. However, I was pulled out of the story too many times by certain stretches of logic that seem extremely implausible. Faith has been living with a coarse group of street-dwelling lads for a decade, yet she’s still a virgin and surprisingly innocent. Faith simply seems too sweet and pure to have spent ten years living amongst a group of thieving lads. In fact, despite her rough upbringing, she’s so modest that she blushes “to the roots of her hair” when Troyce makes a vague reference to menstruation. She’s outraged at the suggestion that she has lice and that she might smell bad, despite the fact that she can’t possibly have bathed on a regular basis. And once in Troyce’s household, she sheds that Cockney accent faster than a collie sheds hair.
Another problem with the plot is that Troyce intends to replenish his all-but-empty family coffers by restoring a Spanish galleon, La Tentatrice, which will fetch at least £5,000 when restored. Troyce needs an investment of £500 to get the work done, so, desperate for money, he sells his town house just outside London (which is described as being “nearly priceless”) to his friend Miles. Oddly enough, though, he intends to use the presumably large amount he’s just garnered to immediately “settle the enormous balance of his father’s debts” rather than investing them in the galleon himself. If he’s so desperate to renovate the galleon, why not pay the bare minimum to his father’s debtors and hold back £500? This isn’t a trivial point, as the whole story revolves around Troyce’s poverty and his need to renovate the galleon in order to sell it for a fortune so that he can preserve his title. Indeed, Troyce can’t let himself fall in love with Faith, because he needs a rich wife so badly. But if he’d only kept that £500, this wouldn’t have been an issue. As a consequence, the conflict in this story seems manufactured.
A Scandalous Lady is a rather sweet romance with a touching ending, and Morgan has a very nice style of writing. Unfortunately, Faith and Troyce are unremarkable characters straight out of central casting, and the plot doesn’t seem to abide by any sort of internal logic. So little about the story and the characters rang true that I simply can’t recommend it.