To Ruin a Gentleman
In 2017, Shana Galen published Traitor in Her Arms, part of the Scarlet Chronicles, a series of historical romantic adventures set during the turbulent years of the French Revolution. Now she’s following up with another book in the series – a novella – which precedes Traitor, but which can be read independently and which is linked to the earlier novel by the setting and the cameo appearance of Sir Percival Blakeney, the Scarlet Pimpernel himself. Or is he? Because according to the synopsis, To Ruin a Gentleman tells the true story of the Scarlet Pimpernel.
The story opens as nineteen-year-old Thomas Daventry arrives at his family home burning with questions for his father. Like many young men of his ilk, Thomas finds life in the country rather dull and spends most of his time in London living it up with his friends. He doesn’t really consider that his parents were young once, and thinks they’ve lived a fairly boring life – and still do – until he meets Sir Andrew Ffoulkes at a dinner party and a comment made by that gentleman sends Thomas racing home in order to do as suggested and ask his father about the real Scarlet Pimpernel. Ms. Galen then proceeds to tell the story of how Thomas’ father, Hugh, Viscount Daventry, met his wife when they were caught up in the events of that fateful July in 1789. (And no, I’m not saying any more about the ‘real’ Pimpernel!)
Angelette, the widowed Comtesse d’Avignon, has invited Hugh Daventry to attend a house party being held at her estate near Versailles at the behest of her sister, the Marquise de Beauvais, who hopes that Hugh will consider importing the de Beauvais family wines to England. But the viscount has the bad manners not to arrive when he is supposed to, and Angelette is somewhat put out when he finally makes his appearance – two days late – when she is about to dine. When he apologises for his tardiness, explaining that he had difficulty getting out of Paris due to the increasing unrest there, Angelette is rather dismissive, blithely suggesting that the King and his ministers will no doubt find a solution to the problem to the riots and get rid of the mobs in the streets. Hugh is faintly appalled by her reaction, even angry when she refuses to accept that she and entire aristocracy is in danger.
Hugh suggests she should accompany him to Calais and thence to England and to her family there (Angelette is half English), but she refuses; she has spent much of her life in France and has lands and responsibilities there and views it as her home. She decides that, for all his good looks and potent masculinity, Hugh Daventry is annoying and she’ll be glad when he departs.
Hugh’s feelings about Angelette run along fairly similar lines. The lady is undoubtedly alluring, but her stubbornness is not only irritating, it could well get her killed – but if she won’t listen to reason, there’s little he can do to help her.
Sadly, however, Hugh’s warnings of the unrest in the city spreading are quickly shown not to have been unfounded when, in the middle of a ball, Angelette’s home is attacked and invaded by an angry mob intent on destruction and murder. His quick thinking gets the two of them away in one piece, and while he wants to head for Calais, Angelette insists on making for Versailles to report the events to the king and ask for his help. As a gentleman, Hugh isn’t about to abandon Angelette and allow her to journey on alone – but Angelette is captured by a group of peasants intent on taking her to Paris for trial and execution, and Hugh must think and act quickly if he’s to have any chance of saving her.
To Ruin a Gentleman is an interesting and engaging romantic adventure featuring a couple of attractive protagonists and Shana Galen has clearly done her homework when it comes to the events of the times. Her descriptions of key events – the invasion of the ball, the fall of the Bastille, for example – are described succinctly and vividly in such a way as to put the reader right in the middle of the action. She also skilfully incorporates the attitude prevalent among so much of the French aristocracy of the time into Angelette’s character, yet does it without making her unsympathetic; rather it’s her naïveté in believing that because she treats her dependants well they will remain loyal to her, and her belief that the King will be able to avert the impending disaster that blinds her to the realities of what is going on around her. Hugh is an attractive, sexy hero, one who is adaptable, clever and protective without being suffocating. Their romance is, perhaps, a little rushed – which is almost par for the course with novellas – but because of the heightened danger and uncertainty of their situation, it works, as both Hugh and Angelette are forced to admit the strength of their attraction and what it means to them, knowing that each day – each hour –might be their last.
My main quibble with the story is with the ending. It’s hard to say much about it without spoilers, so I’ll just say that it’s a little contrived – brilliant ideas run thick and fast, everyone agrees enthusiastically and is keen to get started and… well, it’s all too pat. I understand the need to satisfactorily explain why the true story of the Pimpernel differs from Baroness Orczy’s well-known tale, and Ms. Galen’s is certainly a plausible way to go about it. It was just a little too ‘let’s do the show right here!’ for my taste.
Aside from that, though, To Ruin a Gentleman, is a fast-paced, entertaining and sexy read that should do the trick if you’re in the market for a bit of adventure served up with your romance.