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Desired (Scandalous Women of the Ton) Paperback – 7 Sep 2012
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Cornick ably manoeuvres the engaging characters through an intricate plot with her trademark lively narrative style. Publishers Weekly on Desired
It would be scandalous to miss this! --Now Magazine
Cornick is first-class. Queen of her game. --Romance
A riveting read. --Mary Jo Putney on Whisper of Scandal
About the Author
USA Today bestselling author Nicola Cornick has written over thirty historical romances for Harlequin and HQN Books. She has been nominated twice for a RWA RITA Award and twice for the UK RNA Award. She works as a historian and guide in a seventeenth century house. In 2006 she was awarded a Masters degree with distinction from Ruskin College, Oxford, where she wrote her dissertation on heroes.
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1) "Whisper of Scandal"
2) "One Wicked Sin"
3) "Mistress by Midnight"
4) "Notorious (Scandalous Women of the Ton)"
5) This book, "Desired," and
6) "[Forbidden] [by: Nicola Cornick]."
The hero of this book is Owen Purchase, now Lord Rothbury, an American by birth and a sea captain who has served both in the British Royal Navy against the French, and during the War of 1812 in the American navy against the British. He is a close friend both of Alex Grant, who was the hero of the first book in which Owen was a supporting character, and of Garrick, Duke of Farne, hero of the third book in the series.
Despite his having recently fought against the British and been a prisoner of war, Owen has been allowed to take British nationality on unexpectedly inheriting the title of Viscount Rothbury, presumably from a distant relative - in fact the book says that a special act of parliament was passed to allow him to do so. And as the book opens in late 1816, he is working for Henry Addington, Lord Sidmouth, who is the Home Secretary. The government, both in this book and in real history, was very concerned about dissent in the years after the end of the Napoleonic wars, as the economy went through a bad time and many former soldiers and sailors, now discharged, were desperately looking for work. Owen is being employed to hunt down radicals and particularly an infamous caricaturist whose work is signed "Jupiter."
The heroine of the book is the much married and scandalous Lady Tess Darent, nee Fenner, sister of Joanna who was the heroine of the first book in the series and Merryn who was the heroine of number three. At the start of the book, while he is hunting radicals, Owen finds Lady Tess escaping from a brothel which soldiers are just raiding. As she is the sister-in-law of two of his closest friends he instantly recognises her. Was Tess, as she claims, merely taking her pleasures there and escaping to minimise the scandal? Or does she have rather more than this to hide?
There is a slight onconsistency in the series relating to how many times Tess has been married: in one of the earlier books she was described as having been married four times, but in this one, set a couple of years later, the number of times she has been married and widowed has dropped to three. Tess had some very bad experiences during one of her previous marriages, which through no fault of her own have made her infamous in polite society. For herself she would not be bothered by this and does not much care what high society thinks, but unfortunately Tess needs a powerful ally - preferably a powerful and respectable husband - to protect an innocent person for whose welfare she is responsible.
Therefore - and this isn't a spoiler because I'm quoting the back cover of the book - "Tess requires a very special husband - one who has neither the desire nor the ability or to consummate their marriage."
Tess heard during the raid on the brothel that the man in charge of the raid suffered a most unpleasant wound during the recent wars which would qualify him to meet at least the latter part of this special requirement. She assumes that this means Owen, who would be able to provide the protection she needs, so Tess asks him to marry her.
Again, this is not a spoiler: the back cover states that Tess asks Owen to marry her, wanting a marriage in name only, and that he "cannot resist her." It also makes clear that the two of them want and expect very different things from their marriage.
Can a marriage which starts on the basis of completely incompatible expectations possibly work? Has Tess made the biggest mistake of her life - or the most fortunate one?
One of the characters making a return to the series in this book is Tom Bradshaw, illegitimate half brother of Garrick, Duke of Farne and the villain of the third and fourth books of the series - who appears in this one to be belatedly discovering a conscience. Another is Tom's estranged wife, Lady Emma Bradshaw (nee Brooke), who he seduced and married in the fourth book, and who is now in difficult circumstances because of his actions: she is also an important character in this fifth volume.
Alex and Joanna Grant, hero and heroine of the first book, also reappear in this one and they now have an infant daughter called Shuna.
All the first novels in the series are to a differing extent inspired by real events. In this case it is quite true that in 1816 the government in general, and Lord Sidmouth in particular, were terrified of radicals and dissent and using measures such as agents provocateurs and spies to try to crush them. The climax of the book includes a real historical event, one of the two "Spa Fields riots," probably the second one which took place on 2nd December 1816. In real history this was a political meeting which turned violent resulting in one death and a number of injuries and arrests. The government was convinced that the riots had been deliberately provoked as part of a planned revolution by political radicals. Four men who the authorities believed to be the ringleaders were charged with High Treason. All four were later released after the first to be brought to trial was acquitted and charges against the other three were dropped. However, the rioter responsible for the one fatality during the riot (he stabbed another member of the public) was caught and sentenced to death for murder.
All the romances in this series work as stand-alone novels but as hinted above there is a substantial cast of common characters and sometimes, as with the fact that Alex and Joanna Grant now have a daughter, you can discover important information about what happens to the characters in one book by reading a subsequent volume in the series which in a completely stand-alone novel would have had to go into an epilogue.
So although the novels stand on their own and you do not really have to read them in sequence, I think you will get slightly more out of them if you do.
Pedant Alert! The background research in these book is mostly excellent but there are a couple of minor errors or liberties taken with history, and unfortunately these include a particular bete noir of mine with a particularly egregious example in this book. In earlier volumes characters referred to leaving the Royal Navy as "selling out."
That is bad enough, because this was an army expression which referred to the purchase and sale of officer commissions in cavalry and infantry, a practice which the Royal Navy never countenanced.
This book contains an even worse, because explicit, instance of the same liberty with history: Owen Purchase suggests that his family saved to buy him a commission in the United States Navy.
No, No, NO, NO!
Neither the British Royal Navy nor the United States Navy ever had the system of buying and selling officer commissions, and the reasons for the introduction of such a system the British and many European armies of the time mostly did not apply to naval commissions.
From the restoration era in the 17th century to the Cardwell reforms in the late 19th, most commissions in cavalry and infantry regiments of the British army changed hands by literally being bought and sold. You had to have served a set minimum amount of time in one rank before you could buy promotion to the rank above, and there were a few opportunities for non-purchase and battlefield promotions - most often awarded for some act of suicidal bravery. But the majority of infantry and cavalry officers up to the rank of Colonel would have bought their original commissions and most if not all of their promotions for hard cash.
When you left the army you sold your commission again, hence "selling out."
This system of buying promotion was introduced in 1683, within living memory of a repressive military dictatorship known as the "Rule of the Major Generals," which had been imposed on Britain by Cromwell. The purchase system was designed to ensure that only men with a stake in society could become officers, on the assumption that they would be unlikely to support any coup d'etat against the government.
However, the purchase system was never applied to those parts of the armed forces which required technical or specialist skills and knowledge, such as the engineers, artillery, and most especially the Royal Navy. The system of promotion at sea was, ironically, changed at about the same time in precisely the opposite direction towards meritocracy. Wealth and influence still had an impact, but to a far greater extent than the army, the navy's appointment system was designed to ensure that only those who actually had the ability to do the extremely difficult job of commanding a sailing warship would be trusted with it.
This was essential because eighteenth and early nineteenth century warships were far and away the most sophisticated war machines ever produced by mankind up to that point. Keeping them operational and navigating them safely, let alone fighting them effectively in battle, required enormous skill. From the time of Pepys onwards, nobody, no matter how wealthy or how well connected, was commissioned as a Royal Navy officer without passing an examination which was mandatory for appointment to the rank of lieutenant, and that exam was no formality.
The Navy's officers were proud of their skills and the hard work they had done to earn their positions, and looked down on army officers who had bought their ranks.
The United States navy was similar in this respect to the Royal Navy: political patronage could assist in nomination to their officer training establishments but once there officer candidates had to pass exams and assessments to graduate and win their commission.
Apologies for making such an issue of this, but understanding the changing dynamic between meritocracy and patronage is quite important to appreciating both the history of how modern society evolved and the relative success or defeats of various armies and navies, and gross misrepresentations of history such as suggesting that the purchase of commissions was applied in services which never used it, if you have not already realised, pushes certain of my buttons and rather annoys me.
These matter aside (yes, I know I'm a pedant for pointing it out!) this is an amusing and enjoyable novel.
Being a man I am not usually interested in this type of love story but it is put in context historically and with much thought and seems very real emotionally.
I would thoroughly recommend it and will buy the others in the series and follow particularly the author to see if other books are written so well.
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