How to School Your Scoundrel
This is the third and final book in Ms Gray’s A Princess in Hiding trilogy, in which three royal sisters have to flee their homeland following a revolution. The princesses are transported to England where their uncle, the powerful Duke of Olympia arranges for them to go into hiding disguised as young men. How to School Your Scoundrel focuses on the eldest sister Luisa who, following the assassination of her father, is now the Crown Princess of Holstein-Schweinwald-Huhnhof. At the beginning of the book she arrives, in the guise of Mr Louis Markham, at the home of the Earl of Somerton to apply for the position as his personal secretary.
Anyone who is familiar with Ms Grey’s earlier Affairs by Moonlight trilogy will recognise the Earl as the villain of A Gentleman Never Tells, in which he pursues his estranged wife to Italy with the intention of gaining custody of their five year-old son. I confess that Somerton is the big draw for me when it comes to this book. I’m a sucker for seemingly irredeemable, tortured bad-boys. Unlike so many of the “wicked,” “rakish,” or “rogue” heroes that abound in historical romance today, Somerton really is a black-hearted scoundrel – ruthless, implacable and unscrupulous. He isn’t well liked, he’s feared rather than respected, and he doesn’t give a damn what anyone else thinks of him. Which are, of course, qualities that make him ideally suited to helping to wrest back a kingdom (or, in this case, small German principality).
Somerton finds something admirable in the fact that young Mr Markham not only stands up to him, but shows no fear when doing so, and employs him. As the months pass, they strike up an odd kind of master/servant relationship. Somerton puts up with Mr Markham’s cheek because the man is efficient, straightforward and trustworthy – and his trust is something Somerton does not give lightly or often. There is also the sense of a developing friendship, which is clearly something with which Somerton does not have much experience.
I admit that it does seem odd that Somerton, one of the government’s foremost intelligence masterminds doesn’t see through Luisa’s disguise immediately; I can only presume he is so focused on his own goal of proving his wife’s infidelity and exacting revenge on her lover that he fails to see what is under his nose.
Luisa is growing increasingly concerned for the safety of her sisters and impatient to regain her throne. Things come to a head when an attempt is made on Luisa’s life, and it becomes necessary for her to reveal the truth and ask for Somerton’s help. There’s a lot of humour in the book – I particularly enjoyed the sniping between Somerton and Luisa’s uncle Olympia – as well as an enjoyably complex plot in which the double-dealing and double-double-crossing of the revolutionaries continues to threaten the lives of the princesses.
The love story is emotionally satisfying, too, as Luisa, who has heretofore lived for duty, finds the ideal partner in Somerton. He is not only “the sort of chap who will confound her enemies and do her dirty work, behind the scenes, so she may appear as an unsullied angel to her subjects,” but also a passionate lover who shows her how much more there is to life than duty. And Somerton, a man who has no experience with love or affection, and whose first love cruelly rejected him, finds the woman for him in the form of this loving, loyal young princess, whose good heart refuses to believe the worst of him, and sees honour where he’d believed none remained.
One of the things I’ve enjoyed about this and Ms Gray’s previous trilogy is the fact the stories take place concurrently rather than one after the other. The listener gets brief glimpses of events which have taken place in the other books from different points of view. It isn’t necessary to have read or listened to any of the others, as this works fairly well as a standalone, but I definitely think it enhances the experience if one is familiar with the other stories and characters.
I listened to and enjoyed Carmen Rose’s performance in the previous book and am pleased to see she has finished out the series. Her voice is pleasantly modulated and her narration is measured and clear, although sometimes it feels a little on the slow side. She has an occasional tendency to snatch breaths mid-sentence, which leads to some odd vocal inflections, and I noticed a few mis-pronunciations (although not too many).
Ms Rose differentiates clearly between all the characters and performs male roles well by using a variety of timbres and accents. The Duke of Olympia, who has been a background presence in the other stories, here assumes a more prominent secondary role, and she differentiates clearly between him and Somerton – they’re easily distinguishable in the numerous scenes in which they both appear.
It must be a challenge to represent a female character who is pretending to be a man using only one’s voice. Does one choose to voice the character in a masculine way to help to perpetuate the deception being practiced within the story, or represent them in the same way – as female – throughout? Ultimately, I think Ms Rose has found the happy medium here, by performing Luisa at the lower end of her range, which still allows her to pitch Somerton and Olympia a little bit lower.
The Princess in Hiding trilogy has proved to be an entertaining series. None of the reservations I’ve expressed about the narration are serious enough to have adversely affected my enjoyment of the story. Overall , Carmen Rose delivers an accomplished and nuanced performance.
Breakdown of Grade – Narration: B- and Book Content: B+
Unabridged. Length – 11 hours 16 minutes