The Scandal of It All
Sophie Jordan’s The Scandal of It All takes a steamy, well-written if flawed peek into the life of a duchess who yearns for passion and the duke who desires her above all.
Graciela – Ela – Duchess of Autenberry, has been a widow for the last ten years and, at the age of thirty-five, is stuck on firmly on the shelf. Rejected by proper society because of her Spanish heritage, the ringleaders of her social set frequently accuse her of having stolen her late husband from a ‘proper’ English noblewoman – and as far as Ela is concerned they could happily have kept him. She spends large chunks of time with her young daughter, Clara, and stepdaughter Enid, with occasional visits to her fellow, ‘outcast’ widows, maintaining a happy front for the sake of her daughter’s positions in society. For herself, Ela can see nothing but lonely future, so, spurred on the sudden death of a dear friend and the continued urging and advice of Mary Rebecca, one of her fellow widows, decides to take charge of her life, at least for one evening.
Mary Rebecca has been going to Sodom, the notorious sex club at which members of high society can indulge their sexual predilections and fantasies. Having a chaste life for years, Ela is eager to feel something, anything, and thus agrees to go to Sodom – masked, of course – with Mary Rebecca. While there she is immediately pounced upon by two men, only to be saved by a tall, handsome stranger who is frighteningly familiar.
Colin, Lord Strickland, heads to Sodom to get his petulant friend, Marcus, The Duke of Autenberry (Ela’s stepson), to stop pouting over losing the shopgirl Poppy Fairchurch to his Scottish half-brother, Struan Mackenzie (While The Duke Was Sleeping). Colin can feel his carefree youth slipping away, and the pressure from his last living family member (an image-obsessed grandmother) to marry is increasing. He yearns for a family to fill his empty mansion, but for this night, he sets his thoughts of love aside and sets out for a night of pleasure.
Taken by surprise at the mutual lust that strikes them, Colin and Ela know that having an affair would be risky, yet they are inexorable drawn to each other. Colin suggests they have sex to purge themselves of their feelings, and although initially wary, Ela is eventually unable to resist the strength of her desire. When Marcus find out about the affair, the lovers are torn apart – only for the unexpected to push them together. When tragedy strikes, is there room for true love to grow?
Sophie Jordan writes damnably good erotic romance novels. Her characters are unique, refreshing and engaging, with solid inner lives and the sexual chemistry inherently scorching. I enjoyed her Forgotten Princesses series very much, and for much of The Scandal of It All I was right there reveling in the gossipy, chatty world she’d created for her characters. At least I did until the second half of the novel.
I liked Ela as a person ninety percent of the time; her desire for a life of her own is understandable and even laudable. The dichotomy between duty and desire is a familiar one for romance readers, but Ela’s predicament is trickier than the fluffy opening suggests it might be. The desperate way she pursues orgasm can be off-putting at times (she literally has to bite back hysterical laughter nearly every time), but since she’s only been with one man since she was eighteen and her every choice puts her daughter’s very futures at risk, her nerves are understandable.
Colin, sadly, is the novel’s weak spot. While he starts out as debauched but tender, the way he presses Graciela into admitting her desire for him soured my opinion. Whenever Ela points out that he is acting like a child, I was apt to agree with her. Just a few examples: He tells her he’ll never tell her what to say, think or feel… after doing exactly that. He blames her for contributing somehow to her stepson’s debauched nature while participating in said debauchery himself – and while being aware of Marcus’ father’s love of tossing anything with a skirt onto a table. At least Colin sees Ela as an attractive woman he’s known since he was a youth, instead of an exotic object like the other men she encounters during the story, and tries to woo her when she refuses to give in to his blunt force seduction… then tries blunt force seduction again (seriously? Climbing a wall and breaking into her bedchamber like he’s Edward Cullen because she didn’t take long enough to consider his proposal?). As you can likely tell, it takes a long time for him to shape himself up into a decent hero, but it finally does happen and he DOES grow up in time for the HEA. Thankfully.
The supporting characters are generally amusing. Mary Rebecca’s friendship with Ela is adorable, saucy, and well formed. It’s Mary Rebecca who nudges and cheerleads and urges Ela along on every step of her journey, and her plainspoken honesty and take-no-shit attitude makes me want to read her story next. Too late in the tale do Clara and Enid become characters. While Clara at least isn’t hopelessly insipid, she never breathes; however it’s impossible not to pity poor Enid. Though Jordan foreshadows her rebellion, her running away in the last hundred pages feels like the author’s attempt at throwing some drama into the situation – and following that scene with a Colin/Ela sex scene felt extremely inappropriate.
Indeed, Jordan’s worst stumbles pop up whenever she gives in to conventional plotting and storytelling; for instance, Ela hasn’t experienced the rapture of orgasm pre-Colin, so he can be The Only Man Who Has Ever Cared Enough to Unfurl Her Passion Bud. Every other adult man in the story treats Ela in a rapey manor, but the author presents Colin’s equally stalkerish and forceful behavior with her as natural and right because she desires him. The dissonance is irritating. And don’t get me started on the final sixty pages, which are ridiculously and needlessly over the top.
Jordan’s prose weaves a warm, interesting tale that takes a while to blossom, but a romance that takes a long, long time to sprout properly, and the novel’s last-minute dive into melodrama after a richly comic start is disappointing. Nevertheless, with characters worth rooting for and a romance that finally, in the end, becomes a sweet treat, The Scandal of It All ekes out a recommendation.