Seduction & Scandal was my very first Charlotte Featherstone novel, but maybe it wasn't lucky that I was introduced to her writing by this novel...
It all started out rather well, despite Seduction & Scandal being heavy on the gothic and overly dramatic side (reminded me a lot of Jane Eyre), I enjoyed it and found it an entertaining and quirky almost parody-like historical romance. I even enjoyed the over-the-top melodramatic lines and scenes, but unfortunately in the second half of the novel it all went downhill.
At first there were just a few details which were nagging me, but after a while there were so many that they hindered my enjoyment and I couldn't immerse myself in the story anymore. I'm sorry, this will not be a coherent review, but rather a string of pearls of my thoughts of what I disliked and liked about the novel and the story.
My first complaint was the hero's name: Earl of Black. Really? First of all it doesn't sound very aristocratic, second of all I'm all for speaking names, but can't they be a bit more subtle? But I even got over my first dislike of his name, however when he said to the heroine "Just call me Black." and she did! It left me stunned. (She even called him Black after they first made love, even though she previously called him by his first name, talk about jarring you out of the afterglow scene..) This detail always made me stop while reading to remark how utterly ridiculous it sounded. But let's get on shall we?
The heroine Isabella is a poor girl, who after the death of her grandmother and mother was taken in by some rich and noble relatives. She lives now with her cousin, Lucy and Lucy's father. Isabella fancies herself a novellist and writes historical romances in her spare time. Her current story is a tale of seduction between a young girl (=herself) and the dark lord of Death.
All through the novel I was completely puzzled and constantly pondered why she would write about sensual love scenes with Death when she was absolutely terrified of death and dying?
"How could I forget his kiss? I couldn't. My body ached for more - it longed for Death and his dark embrace."
How can she have this romantic obsession, crush on Death when she keeps having terrifying nightmares?
Isabella is not my favourite kind of heroine (she is fragile and weak, prone to fainting), but I could have accepted her if she had acted at least sensibly. However, this was not the case. One of a recurring line of hers particularly irritated me then made me laugh at its sheer ridiculousness. She states several times that
"I'm of hearty Yorkshire stock, it'll take more than a cuff on the head to make me swoon."
But she is a faint, swooning girl with a fragile, weak constution and constant headaches. So this repetitive contradiction between her frequent declarations and her actual state really got on my nerves.
The writing is very over the top, melodramatic and gothic, those who love Jane Eyre and the old gothic romances will enjoy this.
"Silent as wraiths and as unseen as ghosts, the three of them dispersed deep into the shadows, their ancient order calling them forth to find the relics, and protect them from greedy humans who would use them for their dark powers."
And even though I don't like cheesy dialogues, for some time I could tolerate and even have fun with the story, but after a while all the overly passionate and melodramatic declarations stifled me.
"You'll not be alone tonight, Isabella," he said. "I won't leave you in the dark. Tonight, I'll keep the shadows away."
"When I saw the blood...-" she shuddered "-my heart shattered."
"He was aiming for you, and when I realized that, my heart stopped."
This much syrupy sweetness was just too sticky for me.
Seduction & Scandal is the first book in a new historical romance trilogy which is about three heroes who are freemasons. I only know the basics about freemasonry, but I know it was very hushhush and handled in big secrecy, so I found it improbable that here the freemason members spoke of the ritual, the lodge, etc. freely in front of non members and women during dinner parties!?
However, my biggest problem and complaint was regarding the romance: we get some glimpses into the hero's inner thoughts and it is clear that he is very much in love with the heroine, has been for some time now, even long before the heroine noticed him. But despite this, he only ever speaks of his lust for her, how much he wants to bed her, feel her beneath himself, etc.
"...from the moment I first saw you, I knew that I would one day have you naked in my arms."
Please, let's stop for a moment. The heroine is a young, innocent virgin. Of course such talk frightens her a bit (even if it arouses her), but besides that, due to her mother's scandals caused by her passionate and immoral behaviour, as well as the dictates of society and propriety she justly refuses his dishonourable attempts.
Doesn't he think that if he first mentioned his love for her and proposed marriage, her biggest concern that he will have his way with her and then discard her in disgarce would be moot? Especially since he IS in love with her!
"What has gotten into you?" she asked.
"You have gotten into me. You're in my blood. I want you beneath me, the scent of you on my body, the taste of you on my tongue."
Normally these words would induce shivers and appear sensual, but Black sounds like a broken record, always repeating himself, only talking about lust, sex and seduction, never once of love, tenderness and caring.
"There must be a way, he told himself. Some way to make Isabella see that life with Knighton would be a disaster. If only he could make her believe in his love. Make her understand that love was like an endless ocean, with no beginning or end."
Err what about opening your mouth and saying plainly: I love you Isabella? I think it would work better than simply thinking these worrying thoughts telepathicly...
But then he commits something I have a hard time forgiving a romantic hero for (if I can at all): he tries to blackmail Isabella to have sex with him or else he will ruin Lucy reputation. Forcing a woman (he declares he loves above everything) to have sex with him? A man could do no worse thing than that! And his tendency to start his seduction, repeatedly starting to ravish her against the wall when others are just outside in the corridor and waiting for them to appear in a few minutes? I love to forget reality when reading novels, but this is plainly ridiculous.
The writing is very evocative and paints the dark and foggy atmosphere of the story masterfully. Besides the dramatic and passionate overtones, a few winks of humour also appear in the novel:
"Why...yer blackmailin' me."
"Call it strenuously persuading you. It sounds so much more polite."
Verdict: Despite my quite detailed pet peeves of the novel Seduction & Scandal wasn't as bad as it sounds. It could have been much better, but if you are looking for an atmospheric, gothic and over the top historical romance you might enjoy it. Despite my problems with Seduction & Scandal I will read the second book as I am curious to read about the other characters and hope that as this big storyline of personification/crushing on Death won't be present, it will be better.