My introduction to Caroline Linden’s writing was the first book in her Scandals series, Love and Other Scandals, featuring the fiesty and fierce Joan Bennet (and of course, the dashing Tristan, Lord Burke). Joan’s brother Douglas was an ancillary character, but his presence was a wonderful complication to Joan and Tristan’s my-best-friend’s-sister romance. All’s Fair in Love and Scandal marks the return of Douglas Bennet as the hero of his own happily ever after. It’s a great novella with a fantastic heroine who’s making her way to the top of my Awesome Ladies of Historical Romance list.
Never one to resist a good wager, Douglas accepts a smarmy friend’s challenge to expose the woman behind 50 Ways to Sin, the scandalous publication we’d all be hiding under our petticoats and reading late at night if we were gently bred 19th century ladies. The problem: The suspected author is the lovely but notoriously aloof widow Madeline Wilde, who maintains her place as a member of society but never a full participant.
Despite Douglas’ underlying deceit, their romance is quite straight-forward. The motivation of the wager quickly loses steam as Madeline poses less of a challenge and more of a prize. It’s easy to see why Douglas would want her. She’s beautiful and intelligent, witty and sharp, and just distant enough to cultivate the aura of a woman worth pursuing. The question in my mind was always: What does she want with Douglas?
I’ll confess to anxiously awaiting Douglas’ fall into love and matrimony, but as I continued to read All’s Fair I felt less Team Douglas, and more Team Madeline. In a way they are at odds. Madeline is struggling to hold on to her hard-won independence despite her growing love for Douglas; Douglas is not really sure what he’s doing but he knows that he wants Madeline to want him (and yes, he absolutely wants her). Madeline knows her own mind and Douglas doesn’t. Neither is mature enough to avoid the games we all play (and lose) in love, but somehow Madeline just comes out the better person in this novella. She’s a fan-freakin-tastic heroine and I might want to be her when I grow up.
As is to be expected with any Linden novel, the writing is top-notch, the dialogue is stellar and the pacing is spot-on. The novella’s resolution is full of so much YES! that I hesitate to even address it at all in this review lest I ruin it for future readers. I’ll just say that it’s deeply satisfying.