I’m going to work really hard to contain my exclamation points in this post, but it will not be an easy task. Carolyn Jewel’s Scandal, a 2010 RITA finalist for Best Regency Historical is free right now.
And it’s amazing (which I shall elaborate on in great, great detail).
First I have to send out a giant virtual thank you to Kilts and Swords for notifying me about this fab deal in March. I fell in love with Jewel’s novella One Starlit Night, featured in the novella collection powerhouse Seven Wicked Nights, but wasn’t sure what to read next in her extensive back catalog. Never one to pass up a free book, and swayed by Kilts and Swords’ endorsement, I downloaded Scandal. What followed was me permanently glued to my Kindle, with a book hangover two days later that left me feeling like I’d just over-indulged in a Cinco de Mayo celebration.
It was rough, y’all. But the novel…oh, the novel was AMAZEBALLS.
Although I love historical romance with a passion rivaled only by my deep craving for bread (especially you, bagel), I sometimes get a bit tired of the innocent debutantes and honorable heroes that are supposed to melt our hearts. I always prefer flawed or broken heroes and heroines, which may be why I instantly took to Scandal‘s Sophie and Lord Banallt. Sophie is the only woman Banallt has ever loved. He’s determined to make her his wife, but a terrible falling out leaves Sophie wanting nothing to do with him. Widowed after a disastrous marriage to an uncaring libertine, Sophie is determined to protect her heart and regain some semblance of a life. Yet when Banallt returns she realizes her passion for this handsome rake never quite burned out.
Sophie and Banallt are the most delicious combination of disfunction. Banallt is the worst kind of trouble: a man who could not stay faithful to his own while she was alive, but is moved by deep feeling and passion. His love for Sophie is real and all-consuming, and although he claims it has helped him reform his adulterous ways, you never quite believe it. Clearly neither does Sophie. But while she is determined to keep him out of her life, all you can hope is that she’ll take him. Yes, it’s a huge risk, and there’s no guarantee it will turn out alright in the end, but the hope of love and happiness makes the leap worth taking.
Sophie is calm, calculating, and although not beautiful, seems to possess this kind of sexual energy and presence that has the men around her falling at her feet. She’s a fascinating woman imbued with the desires and foibles that sometimes never make it into the characterizations of other more “perfect” heroines. Emotionally scarred by a terrible marriage born of an adolescent infatuation, she claims to have been ruined by love (in so many words), and wants to part of it anymore.
The Sohpie-Banallt romance is as intense as you would expect. There are very few moments of light-hearted interactions, but the angst is so worthwhile. This is not a slow-burn or a friends-to-lovers story. It’s a deep, passionate romance overshadowed by lies, insults and past hurts, with a palpable undercurrent of sadness. Sophie and Banallt have LIVED, and as a consequence, have lost much that they hold dear. This loss transforms them from hero and heroine to fully realized people–never all good or all bad. They’re complicated, troubled, and some would argue, beyond saving, but their love and attraction is keeping them going (and together). Despite the happily ever after I new Jewel would give them in the end, I couldn’t help but wonder as I closed my Kindle: Will this last?
Surprisingly, I couldn’t answer the question. It felt more real than any romance I’d read recently. Banallt might not be able to remain faithful. Sophie might continue to display emotional remoteness and the occasional cold shoulder. But so what? Relationships aren’t perfect, and I think Scandal accepts that, but encourages us to move on anyway.
Next up on the shameless Carolyn Jewel fanclub reading list: Lord Ruin.