Once a Scoundrel
I read the sequel to Candice Hern’s Once a Dreamer because of its heroine. As someone who’s always had her nose stuck in a book, I’m a sucker for a bluestocking. I’ll take a glance at just about any book featuring an intelligent, educated woman, but the ones that truly hold my attention are those centered on women who are doing something with all that intelligence. And by something I don’t mean heroines who raid brothels to free the prostitutes or rescue orphaned chimney sweeps. I mean something that fits into the time and place they inhabit. If she does nothing else, Ms. Hern gets that part right.
The bluestocking in question is Edwina Parrish. She runs The Ladies Fashionable Cabinet, a woman’s magazine owned by her uncle. Because he’s been a hands-off owner, Edwina and her staff are able to work subtle messages and articles into the magazine that encourage women to think and act for themselves. Having been burned emotionally and intellectually by her more radical efforts during the French Revolution, Edwina’s hopes to improve women’s lot in life in small but steady ways through her articles and essays. Additionally, she and her brother, Nicholas, have been siphoning off small amounts of the profits to pay for other political and social endeavors.
Edwina’s efforts may be in danger when her uncle loses the magazine to Anthony Morehouse in a card game. A new owner will want to look at the books and might be interested in curtailing some of her more subversive writing – both things Edwina hopes to prevent when the new owner asserts leadership. These become the least of her problems, however, when Tony Morehouse appears. Tony is the handsome, arrogant, grown-up version of a boy she knew as a child, and he’s more than a little interested in getting reacquainted.
Upon learning that he’s won a ladies’ magazine, Tony has every intention of turning the magazine over to the woman who’s been successfully running it for years. His plans change when he meets Edwina and he realizes he knows this beautiful woman. Even as a child, Tony liked to make a wager and Edwina bested him more times then he’d like to remember. Now he has a chance to even the score, so to speak, and can further his relationship with Edwina at the same time. He proposes a bet. If she successfully doubles the subscription rate in four months, ownership of the magazine is hers. Edwina accepts the challenge.
To some extent, given the backgrounds drawn for the protagonists, the initial bet makes some sense. The fact that Tony only really makes the bet because he’s hot for Edwina doesn’t make him all that likeable, but it makes sense. Problem is, Tony takes a very long time to progress beyond that point, and he brings Edwina down with him. His immaturity doesn’t begin to disappear until about mid-book and by then it’s nearly too late.
Once Tony and Edwina got past the point of silly bets so Tony could see her bedroom (or so Tony could see her remove a stocking), the book began to gain some of the energy it had lost. Both have serious and interesting baggage to deal with. Tony has lived his life frivolously because he thinks he can never measure up to the man his father expects him to be. And Edwina has closed herself off emotionally in her efforts to deal with the traumatic events in her past.
The author has some truly meaty stuff that could have worked so much better if the she’d spent more time with it. As it is, it’s given little space and concludes with an overblown reaction on Tony’s part – and then nothing. He apologizes, Edwina accepts, the end. An unsatisfying conclusion to what could have been a far more interesting book.