Tuesday, 21 August 2012

A Lady's Lesson in Scandal by Meredith Duran

A Lady’s Lesson in Scandal (2011)
Meredith Duran
Grade: B-
Genre: historical romance
Sex scenes: shy of hot
Source: library

Simon St. Maur, the ninth Earl of Rushden might be titled, but he is completely penniless. The previous Earl made sure that all his money would go to his twin daughters – one of whom has been missing for more than ten years. The recently deceased Earl, however, had never given up hope and Lady Katherine Aubyn will be coming into half of the money when she comes of age. The other half is to go to Lady Cornelia Aubyn, Katherine’s twin, long presumed dead.

Nell Whitby works in a factory and the most exciting thing in her recent existence was standing up to her employers to ask for better working conditions for the girls. Her mother died several months ago and she is living with her abusive brother and his wife, trying to earn enough money to break out on her own. One night on leaving the factory, she and her friend Hannah spot a society picture of the Lady Katherine who bears a remarkable resemblance to Nell herself. Nell thinks nothing of it, but she doesn’t know what this will mean for her future.

Nell has told no one of her mother’s dying words that mentioned the Earl of Rushden. She knew that he did nothing good and one night goes armed with a pistol to seek her revenge. Instead of the elderly man that she had envisioned, she is confronted with the young and handsome new Earl – stark naked.

Simon needs an heiress in order to manage the Rushden estates that were left to him and he’s not going to get any money through Katherine. When Nell lands in his lap, he’s presented with the perfect opportunity for them both. He’ll teach her to become a lady and restore Nell to her proper place in society; with her inheritance, she’ll never want for anything ever again. In exchange, all Nell has to do is marry him and he’ll have the necessary funds to match his title. And if the evidence doesn’t prove that Nell is Lady Cornelia – whatever ways they had of proving such things back then – well, Simon always has the option to annul his marriage … if he doesn’t fall in love first.

Of course, not everyone wants Nell to be declared the real thing so that she can get inherit her half of the Rushden fortune; least of all Grimshaw, Katherine’s guardian who wants to marry Kitty so that he can have access to her money. Kitty herself isn’t too keen on Nell’s newfound notoriety in society, especially since Nell can’t remember a thing about having a sister. It’s going to be an explosive family reunion …

I like pauper-to-princess tales like these. No matter how outrageous or impossible the plots might be, there’s just something about the heroine going from being penniless one moment to heiresses with everything they could have ever dreamed of the next. I would like to see the roles reversed so that it’s the hero who turns out to be the duke or earl of some estate or other, but I guess that it wouldn’t be anywhere near as exciting as where the pauper is the heroine.

Nell is an authentic heroine. She knows what it’s like to live on the streets and have to work for a living and isn’t afraid to get her hands dirty. Her commonness is a breath of fresh air and I love her frankness and down-to-earth manner. As a result, her transformation into a lady is both lovely and realistic to watch. She may have taught herself to read, but she knows nothing of dancing, how to engage in polite small talk or what the latest fashions are. She may hate her companion and all the work she has to do to smooth her rough edges, but when it comes down to it, she’ll put in the effort.

The climax was predictable and a typical trope for plots such as these. I was expecting it and it was blindingly obvious to everyone but Nell; I’m just glad that it wasn’t done badly. It was good but IMO, too protracted. Just when I thought that that was the end and the characters had settled down believing that everything was fine and dandy, everything went pear-shaped again. Yes, it added more excitement to the story, but it could have done with a single amalgamated event instead of the two smaller ones which amounted to a bit of an anti-climax.

This was an alright read. Neither earth-shattering nor a painful read, it was enjoyable while it lasted. There were some great moments between Nell and Simon and Ms Duran did the sexual tension very well. Perhaps the thing I liked the most is that Nell and Simon are both normal characters. Nell, of course, has known poverty and life in the slums and she has coped remarkably well when thrown into the fire that is wealth. Simon, on the other hand is not your pampered Earl who does little more than sit around in White’s and attend balls. He might not know honest labour, but he works as a musician and his skills as a pianist led to some very beautifully described scenes. Nell and Simon really brought this book down to earth for me and it is for them that I would pick up this book again, not necessarily the story. A solid, if not particularly memorable read.

Image courtesy of Fantastic Fiction

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