[1588, England] This book is the second in Gayle Callen's "His" series; Book 1 is His Betrothed, which features Viscount Spencer Thornton (the brother of this book's hero, Sir Alexander Thornton) and Book 3 is His Bride, whose hero is Sir Edmund Blackwell, Alex's best friend. I have not read the first book but was easily able to follow the plot, so it's not a problem if you read the series out of order.
I read His Scandal six years ago and didn't remember the book but thought I had liked it, so thought to reread it. I was at first somewhat disappointed: the story starts off without much of a bang and seems pretty prosaic, with the plot coming off as contrived (it - and Emmeline and Alex's relationship - being driven by the ridiculous wager between Alex and Edmund). The main characters are a pleasure and the book quickly improves though, so if you start off thinking the same thing, don't be discouraged - keep reading and you won't be disappointed!
Despite the often vapid and silly younger sister, most of the secondary characters are interesting and well-written and the chemistry between Emmy and Alex is sizzling. And of course, who doesn't enjoy a historical romance where the hero is a scandalous rake who can't help but fall under the spell of an older-sister heroine who is too often ignored ... until the hero finally sees her for the intelligent, unusual, beautiful, and wonderful woman she is? ::sigh::
MAIN CHARACTERS, Emmeline and Alexander:
Lady Emmeline Prescott has always been in her younger sister, Blythe's, shadow - though over time this has become as much by outside influence as by choice. Regarding her younger sister almost as a daughter (they are 7 years apart), Emmy has practically raised her and sees it as her duty to look after Blythe and help her find a suitable husband who will love and care for her. Around seven years ago she once fancied herself in love with a young man, but he was a tutor and her father forbade the match, not thinking him to be of a suitable station. Since then, Emmy has given up on ever finding her own HEA and has convinced herself that she will be content with being a beloved elder sister and the aunt to Blythe's children.
Emmy is a great heroine; she's strong and intelligent, kind and passionate, and definitely very easy to root for. She's suspicious of Alex's attraction to her, unbelieving that he could actually like anything about her - and once she admits that he desires her, she cannot imagine he feels anything other than lust. She finally realizes that they both need each other and can make each other happy and she - somewhat forcefully and surprisingly - takes matters into her own hands.
Preceding the story, Sir Alexander Thornton spent ~2 years pretending to be his elder identical twin brother, while Spencer was in Spain spying for Queen Elizabeth (they didn't want anyone to know he was gone, so Alex pretended to be Spencer and every now and then reverted back to himself so that no one suspected either twin was missing). The role he played as Viscount Thornton was far different from that of the Viscount's scandalous younger brother, but Alex found himself surprisingly at ease - and happy - managing estates, exploring new and innovative engineering techniques for the farms, and writing bills in the House of Lords. Once his brother returns, however, he is relegated to the scandalous younger brother role again: society fawns at the heroism and courage displayed by Viscount Thornton, but Alex is looked down upon and somewhat shunned for having misled everyone; people who used to court his favor and listen to his opinion now no longer care to have anything to do with him.
Alex is a much deeper character than we initially think; he plays the role of easy, charming, devil-may-care rogue who only cares about finding pleasure and scandal and nothing else, but we quickly see that though that is one side of his character, it is also a kind of mask he hides behind. His appreciation of Emmeline rings true and their relationship, though definitely involving flirting and *hot* chemistry, also evolves into a wonderful friendship. Their exchanges and sparring are great fun to read and Callen includes several laugh-out-loud moments. All in all, they are delightful characters and a perfect match - they both feel overshadowed by their siblings, underappreciated and undervalued, yet Emmy sees more in Alex than just a scandalous rake who seeks pleasure with little regard for anyone/anything else, and Alex sees more in Emmy than the rigid older sister of a young beauty who wants nothing to do with men and has given up on a life of her own.
COMMENTS (criticism and praise):
~ Great sexual tension and chemistry, as well as well-written dialogue and verbal sparring, between the hero and heroine
~ I like knowing characters' ages and we aren't told anyone's - the only thing we know is that Emmy is 7 years older than Blythe
~ Blythe, Emmy's sister, is a pretty flat and boring character for most of the book, though she starts to show promise towards the end; other than that, Callen has wonderful secondary characters (especially Maxwell, Edmund, and Spencer)