Scandal’s Daughter is the first book of debut author Christine Wells (the book won a Golden Heart Award last summer). I like reading first books – there are no preconceived notions about the author or the style, and there’s an excitement that comes from delving into the unknown. But there is nothing new here. I’ve seen these characters, these motivations, these plots before. And then suddenly there would be some bizarre little plot point thrown in for which I would have appreciated an explanation, but got none, that added a tinge of frustration to the overall blandness of the book.
Sebastian Laidley, the earl of Carleton, is your basic hedonistic rake. He is summoned to his dying godfather’s home in the country and ordered to marry the old man’s granddaughter, Gemma; he wants her settled and happy before he dies. Sebastian is horrified. Though he grew up with Gemma at Ware and they are friends, he can’t marry her – he can’t marry anyone for he hated his father and promised himself that he would let the family line die with him. Sebastian does promise, however, to take Gemma home with him on the pretext of helping to organize a house party and find her a husband amongst the guests.
Gemma is happy to see Sebastian, though sad to see what a hardened rake he has become. Gemma has a scandalous mother (though we are not told what her mother did to become a byword) and has holed up at Ware where she feels safe from the snubs and disdain of the townspeople who think she must be just like her mother, though she has led a blameless life. Gemma has taken over the running of the estate in her grandfather’s illness and, since it is obvious that no one will marry the daughter of a scandalous woman, it is her dearest wish to live there always.
But, she allows herself to be talked into going to Sebastian’s home on the flimsiest of pretexts. Sebastian’s sister is to be married and Sebastian wants Gemma to organize, not only the wedding, but the house party leading up to it. Why? Why should his mother or his sister allow a stranger (for Gemma has never met any of Sebastian’s family) to take over the wedding preparations? Sebastian says that his mother has problems coping, but what about the sister? It made absolutely no sense to me, but Gemma goes, hoping that the estate will suffer in her absence so that the dying Hugo (she calls her grandfather “Hugo” – again, why? We aren’t told.) will then appreciate her abilities and allow her to inherit the estate.
So, on to Laidley where Gemma whips the estate and everyone on it into shape and she and Sebastian fight their attraction to each other, all the while brooding over attentions being paid to them by others. Been there, done that.
There were some good – and thankfully, explained – surprises along the way and there were times when Sebastian and Gemma stepped out of their stereotypical rake and managing female personas for some touching moments, especially with their respective mothers. But for the most part, I found nothing exciting or new or distinctive enough about Scandal’s Daughter to make it more than an average read.