The Scoundrel's Honor
I hadn’t read any of Christi Caldwell’s romances before I tried The Scoundrel’s Honor, and although it’s only the second book in the Sinful Brides series, initially I felt like a stranger at the party. The novel begins with several references to the scandalous romances of the heroine’s three older siblings, and in the hero’s first scene, he and his brother discuss his sister’s marriage, adding “you know that” as they rehash the events of the previous book. It wasn’t the best start for a newcomer to the series.
But on to the story. Eighteen-year-old Lady Penelope Tidemore is determined to be a proper lady when she attends her first ball of the Season, because her family has provided far too much fodder for the gossips. Unfortunately, another guest is Ryker Black, the bastard son of a duke who’s been granted a title by the King, and who’s also the owner of a notorious gaming-hell.
Slight digression : each chapter starts with a short diary entry from Penelope, written between the ages of seven and fourteen. Well, I had an entry for that document too, written the moment a conveniently torn dress sends Penelope fleeing into the garden.
I’m going to guess that Ryker and Penelope are caught in the garden with her dress torn and she has no choice except to marry him.
(Ten minutes later)
I was right.
Ryker is introduced as he sneers icily at the aristocracy, and his signature facial tic is to flex his jaw, a bit like a snake preparing to swallow an egg. But after he’s caught with Penelope, it affects business at his club, because aristocratic patrons want nothing to do with a man who ruined a lady. Plus, now that his name is linked with Penelope’s, his nemesis – a man called Killoran who runs a rival club – might use her against him. So after another meeting with Penelope, he agrees to marry her.
Not that he’s going to do anything further with her. Ryker prides himself on not being as weak as the rest of humankind, by which he means that he doesn’t feelor show emotions of any sort (except contempt, which is on display 24/7). But while he knows Penelope is a foreigner to his world, he’s not prepared for how adaptable, intelligent and optimistic she can be. He’s also taken aback by his attraction to her, which is so different from the nothing he felt for the ‘numerous whores’ he’s bedded, but perhaps there’s a simple explanation :
He had been too long without a woman.
For the first half of the book, he’s a collection of clichés molded together to make a giant jerk. What I hated most about him was that although he grew up on the streets, he despises prostitutes. Of course, he despises everyone, but for some reason he thinks prostitutes are ‘soulless’ and it’s appropriate for sex with them to be ‘savagery’. Yet he employs them in his club, and it never occurs to him to offer them a better alternative until Penelope points out that the women are not selling their bodies for the sheer fun of it.
Speaking of Penelope, she can be Pollyanna-ish sometimes, and she has no flaws other than talking too much, which usually makes Ryker kiss her to shut her up. But she brings out the (very deeply hidden) best in him, and the second half of the book was a great improvement. I also loved the scene where Penelope tries to make Ryker read an anonymous letter she’s received, claiming he keeps a mistress under the same roof as his wife. Except he can’t read.
And since he’s desperate not to let her know that, he looks at the letter and then deflects, prevaricates and does his best to guess what it says. He guesses wrong, and the tension builds to the breaking point until she realizes the truth and offers to teach him to read. Compared to the predictability at the start, this was so much better.
The book might have earned a higher grade if not for two things, the first of which is the To Be Continued part of the plot. That anonymous letter? Ryker speculates there’s a spy within his ranks, but nothing more comes of this. Killoran? Well, he’s mentioned several times before he finally makes an appearance, threatens Penelope, and slinks off to await his cue in book three.
The second thing is the style. There are fourteen mentions of Penelope’s ‘midnight hair’, and I lost count of the number of times she was described as innocent. Characters frequently tell each other what they already know, or repeat to themselves something that was hammered home already. Finally, I got really tired of the mayhaps. Everyone says ‘mayhap’, and it stands out because the rest of the style isn’t archaic.
For readers who are already fans of the Sinful Brides series, or can’t get enough of the Tidemore family, The Scoundrel’s Honor might be satisfying. For others… you pays your money and you takes your chance. But although this story had its enjoyable moments, I don’t hold out much hope for your hitting the jackpot.