Mistress of Scandal
Reading this romance wasn’t a hardship, but in the end I never felt it was anything special or memorable.
The notorious Madame Aphrodite, owner of one of London’s most infamous brothels, hires Sebastian Thorne to track down an enemy who stole her three daughters away when they were just little girls. (This is the third in the series, featuring the youngest daughter.)
Sebastian is a well-regarded hunter with a shadowy past who can act like a gentleman but doesn’t live the life of one. When he goes to Yorkshire to investigate, he meets one of Aphrodite’s daughters – the very respectable Francesca, whose streak of wildness hides deep within.
Francesca immediately intrigues Sebastian, particularly the passion he feels must be inside her. She wants to live a quiet life and shudders to think about her connection to Madame Aphrodite, but Sebastian won’t leave her alone. And deep down, of course, she doesn’t really want him to.
Surprisingly, though I found the first half of the book concentrating on the meeting of Sebastian and Francesca rather slow and unoriginal, the remaining plot involving Aphrodite’s past/present enemy provided a more compelling mystery with some surprising revelations about how it all began. Subplots with Francesca’s family members and other side characters kept everything moving quickly.
However, too much of this book seemed a little too familiar. Sebastian is the sort of dark, dangerous and rakish-but-reformable hero who appears in so many stories. Francesca is the outwardly modest heroine who is outraged at Sebastian’s advances but, of course, will give in sooner than you might think. The two immediately spark to one another, but I must have missed the part where they actually got to know each other before falling in love – I didn’t see it in the story. Unfortunately, I never really got to know either of them, or never felt affected by their problems. Sebastian’s past and related problems aren’t touched upon till very late in the book, and Francesca’s conflict with her mother is explored rather superficially.
On the surface there is nothing wrong with the author’s writing style, but it lacks the weight of realistic dialogue, and it doesn’t quite flow or charm as intended. Magic is missing. One particular scene highlights this: Sebastian is flirting with Francesca, and she tries to resist by declaring she has a fiancé. Who is out hunting a tiger. Or a lion. That escaped from a circus. It falls even flatter than it could possibly have been intended.
In the end, the biggest problem wasn’t with the characters or the plot. I simply felt the book lacked depth, and I never felt truly connected to the emotions of the characters.