Pearl Darling’s Somewhat Scandalous succeeds asa demented soap opera, but fails as a romance. The characters careen through one bizarre situation after another, and while I had no interest in them on an emotional level, I couldn’t wait to see what nonsense they’d get up to next.
Lord Henry Anglethorpe works as a spymaster for the War Office. Unfortunately his superior wants him to get married, so he can move in the ton without attracting attention due to his reclusive ways. But after Henry’s father’s death, his mother wasted away and died too, so love = heartbreak. And as if this wasn’t enough of a cliché, there’s the usual disdain for women:
Debutantes were silly. They were simpering misses whose veneer of sophistication covered either heads filled with sponge, or Machiavellian minds ready to entrap their next lord.
Ah, “simpering”. That word always appears in the thoughts of a misogynistic hero. I could make a drinking game out of it.
But along comes our heroine, Agatha Beauregard. She’s left homeless after her grandfather’s death, so her brother, who lives elsewhere, asks Henry to be her guardian. Her grandfather was extremely abusive, but all the beatings he inflicted haven’t affected her, so… moving on. Agatha is fascinated by science and indulges in experimentation at the drop of a hat.
This could have been intriguing, but it never came off as well-developed. Rather than having a chosen field of study, Agatha flits from one discipline to the next. Then, at a ball, she gives scientific demonstrations to gentlemen, and when Henry says this behavior has made her an object of gossip, she suggests she become a member of the Royal Academy of Sciences. Henry stammers in disbelief, and a villain points out to Agatha that the Royal Academy doesn’t accept women.
Agatha is completely naïve about anything that’s not science-related. When Henry gets his valet to masquerade as a footman to keep an eye on her, the valet disguises himself as a hunchback with a huge wart on his nose and a beard worthy of Santa Claus, then addresses a lord’s widow as “Miss”. Agatha fails to see through any of this. On top of that, she’s victimized by four different men, on separate occasions. One of them lures her into a private room, then pulls her into an embrace, which makes her whimper helplessly until Henry interrupts.
Immediately Agatha fell limp in relief, shuddering with revulsion at Charles’ hands. Henry, her rescuer. She’d never call him Horrible Henry again. She waited limply but Henry did not try to pull her out of Charles’ arms.
Henry arranges for her to marry the guy, who turns out to be an evil lecher. Agatha runs away from him and bolts smack dab into yet another man who has ill intentions towards her. For some reason the man, who’s a circus performer, forces her to dress up as a knife-thrower and chuck blades at him, and then someone tries to shoot her, but she runs away again and Henry saves her.
I wasn’t even halfway through the book at this point. Agatha hears that her brother and his wife were killed in the usual carriage accident, leaving their daughter in an orphanage, so she rushes off to save the girl without a word to anyone. Henry’s sister considers Agatha her dearest friend, so Agatha’s disappearance makes the sister sink into a depression and marry some creep. I predicted the creep would die, and sure enough he did so ten pages later, but by then Henry believes Agatha is a French spy. And it only gets more convoluted from here.
Somewhat Scandalous is actually quite funny, if you don’t need realism. An earl introduces himself to Agatha as “Earl Harding”, and I wondered if Earl was his given name. But no, his name is Hades. Maybe that’s why everyone calls him Earl Harding. I could go on and on, but you get the gist. Finally, Henry’s superior explains to him that his mother actually died of consumption rather than a broken heart, so Henry realizes that marrying Agatha won’t mean dooming her to an early grave if she becomes a widow. Besides, I thought, like Mr. Bennet, he may be the survivor. And on that cheery note, my review ends.