Summer of Scandal
Syrie James’ Dare to Defy series continues with its second volume, Summer of Scandal.
American Madeline Atherton is determined to marry for love, not money. A college graduate, she dreams of writing novels, but instead, her shipping magnate father has endowed her with a million dollar dowry and her parents have accompanied her to London in order to secure her a husband. When a handsome but impoverished nobleman – who is variously referred to as a marquess, a duke and a plain old lord – proposes, she panics, and inspired by her older sister Alexandra’s flight towards love in the previous book, runs away to Cornwall to seek her.
But it’s not Alexandra who arrives at the train station to meet her but Charles Grayson, Earl of Saunders, who is Alexandra’s husband’s best friend. The roguish earl caused a massive scandal by running off to America with Thomas’ former fiancée and subsequently dumping her before returning to England. Alexandra and her husband are away from home for two weeks, which means Madeline must make other plans. Charles offers to escort her to an alternative destination, which results in their having to share a carriage unchaperoned – the beginning of a series of scandalous events that will draw them closer together.
Charles has problems of his own. His father has been ailing for years but has finally taken a turn for the worse. Charles is relieved to be pulled out of the whirl of the London Season, and away from the expectations of his family, who, following the scandal he created because of his impulsive behavior, is pressuring him to propose to his cousin Sophie and settle down. While Sophie is a perfectly nice, accomplished rose of English society, he cannot conjure the words to ask her to be his wife and doesn’t wish to settle down, even if her family thinks she’s a perfect marchioness-in-the-making. His family also disapproves of his hobby of creating inventions and crafting jewelry. Looking out for his best friend’s annoying sister-in-law seems to be the perfect distraction.
The twosome end up caught in a violent storm, which lands them – thanks to flooded roads and downed trees – at Trevelyan Manor, the Saunders’ country seat. When Sophie arrives seconds later for a visit, Charles is more than flustered. But Madeline, promptly plunged into the culture of the Grayson family, thrives, making friends with the innocent and open-hearted Sophie and Charles’ two younger sisters – bold Anna and quiet Helen. But when an act of personal defiance causes Charles’ father to collapse from a seizure, Charles is determined to follow his father’s instructions and ‘do his duty’, which means marrying Sophie, taking care of the family, making sure the estate thrives… and ceasing to create his inventions. Yet he remains tempted by Madeline, who understands his inventing as well as he understands her need to write novels and create plays. They only find themselves getting closer as time goes on. Can Charles and Madeline manage to find true happiness without hurting Sophie?
Summer of Scandal is a study in longing and human need. It’s entertaining, romantic, slow-burning and restrained, with a level of class and intelligence that’s appealing.
Our hero and heroine are well-matched in their brainy nerdiness. I liked Madeline’s nerdy tendency to spout facts, and her love of writing and reading that’s incomparable. And Charles is the kind of guy who names his horse Tesla. They were clearly meant for one another.
Charles and Madeline immediately embark upon a battle of the sexes, in which she proves her gender is just as strong as his, and it’s extremely charming. She’s incredibly smart and he’s willing to bend to her superior intellect; she’s entranced by his creative side. Together they have a sense of understanding and banter that goes beyond and beautifully melds them together.
I loved Sophie, and I loved Madeline’s friendship with her; Alexandra and Madeline’s sibling relationship, too, is endearing and strongly written. Their mother and Charles’ father, sadly, are stick figures whose strange antiquated opinions about creativity made absolutely no sense even for an old-fashioned gentleman.
Summer of Scandal’s biggest problem involves its lack sense of time and place. Occasionally it felt like the proper Victorian era romance it was; sometimes it felt more like a Regency in manners, tone and setting. Terms of address occasionally trip things up; there is a point where one character is varyingly called the Marquess, Lord and Duke of Oakely, for instance, which is poor continuity and editing if nothing else. And having Our Hero invent mining helmets years before they were invented feels like fantasy movie territory; as this is historical romance taking place in a given time period, you’re forced to remember that those things were invented much much later in time.
Yet the novel’s sense of romance and character worked quite well for me. Summer of Scandal was interesting, even at its most ahistorical.