When I first heard that Karen Robards’ new novel was a historical, I was excited. I’ve enjoyed nearly all of her historicals in the past, and the mention of Ceylon in the blurb called up memories of Green Eyes, which was set almost entirely in Ceylon and is one of my favorites by her. While I was not totally disappointed by this book, it wasn’t quite what I had hoped it would be either.
Gabriella is the eldest of three sisters who have recently been orphaned by the death of their horrid father, the Earl of Wickham. The title and all their father’s possessions now fall to their half-brother Marcus, who was raised in Ceylon, and who none of them has seen in thirteen years. They are in tough financial straits already, but when a servant arrives with the news that Marcus, the half-brother, has died, Gabriella knows their situation has gone from bad to worse. The same servant, Jem, also bore a letter from Marcus, written shortly before his death, instructing the sisters to take themselves off to London and the Marriage Mart – their only possible hope of securing their future. Gabriella decides not to tell anyone – not even her sisters Beth and Claire – that her brother has passed away, and instead proceeds to take them to London, where she hopes that Claire’s beauty will capture a suitor wealthy and kind enough to take in herself and Beth as well. So it is to her great surprise to arrive in her brother’s house in London to find…her brother?
I almost would have assigned a B to the majority of this book. It didn’t quite have the suspense factor that I’ve come to expect in Robards novels, but then, it didn’t have the psycho-sicko factor that has so marred her recent contemporaries, either. What it did have was a strong and well-written romance between two likable characters, as well as a good cast of well-drawn secondary characters. There were a few problems overall with the cast, as mentioned in the Pandora’s Box on this book – such as Jem’s difficult-to-pinpoint accent, and Beth’s relative immaturity – but as a whole, they were fleshed out just enough to set up for future books, which the blurb hints will follow.
Unfortunately, the book had two main problems that pulled it firmly down to a merely average read. The first was Gabriella and Marcus’s semi-sibling relationship. Even though the reader knows right off that the hero and heroine are not brother and sister, the fact that everyone else believes him to be her brother (including Claire and Beth) made for some very nervous scenes, and by that I mean that I was actually quite worried that they would be caught. Love scenes are always just a little “dangerous” when they happen before the presumably inevitable wedding, but when the principals involved are assumed to be siblings, that puts a completely different spin on the matter. This definitely wore on me as a reader. Whenever they so much as looked at each other in public, I found myself wanting to shout “Don’t do that!!” While it didn’t make me feel “icky” to read about characters who are supposedly related (but whom we know are not), it certainly made me nervous.
My second problem occurred near the end of the book, and involved an incident that I found so unbelievable that it took me right out of the book. I won’t mention it without a spoiler warning, but if you’ve read the Pandora’s Box, you’ll have a pretty good idea of it anyway. Sadly, I had been very much into the story up until that point, but that one incident jerked me out of that state of suspended disbelief, and essentially ruined the read.
Scandalous was a C for me because it was quite a good read up until the end, but that end was problematic enough to drop the grade. There are still enough good elements to make this an enjoyable book, but enough problems to keep me from recommending it as being on the same level as her better historicals. So, if you’re looking for one of Karen Robards’ good, well-written historicals, I suggest you pass on this one, and pick up Green Eyes or Loving Julia.