Prelude to a Scandal
Whenever I read a book by a new-to-me author, I try to be ready for whatever I might find since there are so many different voices out there. With Prelude to a Scandal, the emotional quality of Marvelle’s story stood out to me. Even though I could nitpick some of her historical facts and take issue with the pacing, the book has a certain heart that makes it quite readable.
From the outset, it’s obvious that this book will not be your garden variety English historical. We learn early on that Justine’s father, a naturalist who studied wildlife in South Africa, has come to some socially unacceptable conlusions regarding homosexual behavior in mammals. Not surprisingly for the time, the king has ordered him jailed. Seeking her father’s release, Justine turns to her father’s patron, the rakish Duke of Bradford. Figuring she already has no prospects for marriage, Justine decides she may as well offer up a few nights of her company in return for her father’s release. Bradford responds by proposing to Justine.
All but the very densest of readers will figure out by the end of the prologue that Justine and Bradford are destined to have an unusual relationship. Upon accepting Bradford’s proposal, Justine finds herself living in a strange household where all the servants are male and the notorious Bradford behaves in an odd and decidedly non-rakelike way toward his new bride. Justine has adored Bradford since meeting him two years prior, and she despairs at his treatment of her. Fortunately, she discusses matters with him rather than just stomping around tossing her curls.
Though readers learn Bradford’s secret fairly early in the book, I still don’t want to spoil it and I don’t really need to in order to get at the real strengths of this story. First of all, the leads are both likable characters. Justine has some unconventional ideas, but given her background, her ways of thinking do not seem unbelievable. Every age has its unconventional thinkers and Justine certainly has the past to mold her into one. They are both intelligent and, though Bradford’s secrets come between them, you can see the couple start to fall for one another. Unlike many couples, these two actually communicate with each other, and their relationship ends up being a rather frank one. I found their willingness to be open with each other very refreshing.
This honesty lends the book an emotional authenticity that makes it a rewarding read. Some of the historical background in the setting may strain belief at times, but the story possesses a raw honesty of feeling that connects with the reader, independent of time or place. While the author’s ability to build a believeable relationship certainly makes the book more of a good read than not, I still cannot entirely ignore the flaws. For starters, the characters speak of going back and forth from England to South Africa as though it were nothing more than an easy vacation trip rather than the arduous and dangerous voyage that it was back at that time.
Added to that there is also a twist involving a former mistress of Bradford’s brother that felt contrived rather than necessary or poignant, and distracted greatly from the main story. The author had already given readers plenty of meaty story to ponder, and piling on yet more subplot just didn’t enhance it. Still, even with a few missteps, Prelude to a Scandal is an entertaining and rather lovely read.