Marriage Most Scandalous
With over forty novels published, I expected smooth, experienced writing from Johanna Lindsey. A Marriage Most Scandalous has great writing but also many flaws and a hero and heroine who increasingly are not worthy of any admiration or respect.
After Sebastian Townsend sleeps with a woman who turns out to be the wife of his best friend Giles, the woman tearfully confesses the affair to her husband and accuses Sebastian of seducing her. The two then face off in a duel during which Sebastian intends to die, but Giles fires first, jerking down Sebastian’s arm, causing him to shoot Giles directly in the chest. In the aftermath, Sebastian’s father Douglas disowns him and orders him to leave England.
Sebastian roams Europe for eleven years, harboring guilt about the duel and bitterness over the loss of his nobleman’s life. Now a mercenary called the Raven, he has a reputation for completing any job, no matter how hard or impossible. The English Lady Margaret Landor seeks out the Raven to find the disowned son of an earl. She wants the disowned son to investigate suspicious accidents happening to the earl, her former guardian. Margaret is shocked that the Raven is Sebastian, the same disowned son. Sebastian refuses to look into his estranged father’s accidents, but he jokingly tells Margaret that he’ll do it for a hundred thousand pounds. She says deal, coercing Sebastian on his word to do the job. Margaret understands that Sebastian will have trouble getting into his father’s home, so she proposes they pretend to be married so that she can introduce her new husband to her former guardian.
Even in the prologue, the illogical actions of the characters stand out. Why does Giles have a new wife when he’s engaged to marry an heiress? Why is Douglas so quick to disown Sebastian after the tragic accident? If Sebastian and Giles are best friends since childhood, why is Giles on the Grand Tour with Denton, Sebastian’s younger brother? It’s baffling and annoying that author Lindsey gives no reasons for the characters behaving so irrationally other than to contrive the plot.
Lindsey does a decent job of showing Sebastian’s attraction to Margaret. Sebastian admires Margaret’s good looks and perhaps her personality, too. In a nicely written scene, he is charmed when the wind blows around her hair and rather than controlling it decorously in a bonnet, Margaret merely grabs it in her hands.
Lindsey does a less convincing job of showing Margaret’s attraction to Sebastian. Margaret admires Sebastian’s good looks…and that’s about it. Sebastian as the Raven is menacing, intimidating, barbaric, brusque and rude. He admonishes her for being talkative. He is high-handed with her. He keeps her in the dark with his investigations. He repeatedly tells her to be quiet. The list goes on and on. Margaret just gets annoyed with Sebastian and grows increasingly in lust, er, in love with him.
Sebastian becomes more unlikable. When he realizes later that Margaret doesn’t have enough money to pay him, he suggests that she pay him with her body. When he feels his lust has become overwhelming for him, Sebastian sneaks into Margaret’s bed, feels her up and manipulates her into sex. Here’s a choice dialogue from that scene:
“Say yes, Maggie,” he whispered.
“No,” she gasped.
“Very well, as long as we both know you meant yes.”
Ugh! I don’t know who is worse; Sebastian for not having any remorse for taking Margaret’s virginity or Margaret for accepting it. Moreover, when Margaret tells Sebastian they can’t be intimate anymore, it’s no surprise that Sebastian sneaks into her bathtub and manipulates her into sex again.
There are other problems too. The characters bandy around divorce as a solution to Margaret’s pretend marriage and Denton’s miserable marriage, even though divorce isn’t easy to get in Regency England times and would damage a person’s place in society. A subplot at the beginning of the story pops up only at the end and is superfluous. The author uses the words “at all” very, very frequently. I’m not sure if it’s historically accurate, but after seeing “at all” on practically every other page, it becomes a major annoyance.
The hero’s despicable actions and the heroine’s acceptance of them left me utterly cold. But the author’s writing raises this book from “F” level; there are no boring passages, even though Lindsey does more telling of the story than showing of it, and the characters are vividly drawn, even if I couldn’t abide by them.