How to School Your Scoundrel
I once took an English class on Shakespeare and his works. We read a couple plays and sonnets as a class, but for our final project we were directed to split into groups and choose a play to read and present on our own. More than half of the works selected had characters cross-dressing or wearing various other disguises. I think there’s something about a character in disguise that spices up a story and makes it more appealing. We certainly enjoyed watching our classmates dress up with fake mustaches and eye patches!
Although Princess Luisa doesn’t employ either an eye patch or false facial hair, she does succeed in passing herself off as man. After a rebel group attacked and murdered some members of the royal family of Holstein-Schweinwalh-Huhnhof, it was decided that the remaining three princesses should go into hiding as Englishmen. Luisa is quickly separated from her younger sisters and sent to work as a secretary for Philip, the Earl of Somerton. She meets occasionally with “Mrs. Duke” (aka her uncle, the Duke of Olympia, who was the mastermind behind this plan of disguise) in order to keep up to date on any news involving her sisters or the rebels.
Philip, Luisa’s new employer, is not a happy man. He is constantly irritable, obsessed with proving that his wife is adulterous, in spite of the fact that every investigator he hires returns to him convinced of her innocence. The Somerton household overall seems to favor Philip’s wife—she generally stays at home playing with their young son while Philip is always too busy to spend time with his family.
Luisa’s presence doesn’t affect the household terribly much for the first few months. Philip enjoys his new secretary, because she (or rather, he, from Philip’s point of view) is the first not to be scared off almost immediately. Luisa gets to enjoy a life that is almost calm, until she is suddenly attacked. Then Philip’s wife runs off with her lover and his son, and Luisa’s uncle discovers who lay behind the betrayal that resulted in Luisa’s attack. By the time the dust settles from all of these events, the book is almost finished.
I liked Princess Luisa. As the eldest sister, she is destined to become queen once the rebels are dealt with, and so she is very concerned with the responsibility of ruling and protecting her people. She’s also worried about her sisters—something I certainly can empathize with. A different, less busy plot would have allowed her character to be emphasized more, but what I saw of it, I liked.
Philip was a little harder for me to understand. Irritable, taciturn heroes are by no means foreign to me, and sometimes they’re the most fun to read about. At least, they are when I manage to understand them in spite of their reticence. Yet I couldn’t get a good sense of Philip. He generally ignores his son, is consumed with his goal of proving his wife’s adultery, and does some work for the government. He doesn’t seem to really like anything until the end, when he abruptly becomes affectionate toward Luisa. I suppose that I prefer dealing with this inscrutability to being inundated with unimportant information about a character—especially when that information shows the character to be unlikeable.
Overall, I think How to School Your Scoundrel could have benefited from a little more time spent on character development, even in the midst of its busy plot. However, I will admit I didn’t notice this flaw until the end—I was occupied with disguises and treasonous plots right up until the epilogue. The story was a good one—characters in disguise generally do make for interesting stories. I’m definitely going to be on the lookout for the next book by Juliana Gray.