Publication Date: March 1, 2011
Genre: Historical Romance
If there is any
thing Tristan Adam Hargrove, fourth Marquis of Moreland, has learned to avoid, it’s scandal. For the dark and dashing lord is not only an honorable gentleman who would never seduce a woman for his own gain, he is also the author of How to Avoid a Scandal, the infamous red book that has swept like wildfire through the better part of London society.
When a raven-haired beauty arrives as his new neighbor, he knows better than to succumb to the desire he feels. He knows little about her—only that she is high born, a protégé of the Crown and completely unsuitable for the base passions he hides from the world. If only he had never glimpsed the vulnerable beauty one fateful night. If only her lips were not so ravishingly red. If only it were not already too late to save her and himself from the untamed passion he is about to unleash in the name of love.
This is the final book in Marvelle’s Scandal trio, stories all linked by that little red etiquette book, How to Avoid a Scandal. These were my first introductions to Marvelle, so I’m not sure what her style is with her other books, but she kept things provocative with these three. The first, Prelude to a Scandal, involved the suggestion of sexual addiction in Regency England among rakes; the second, Once Upon a Scandal, featured the main character’s time spent in paid servitude (sometimes sexual) in Italy to a rich man’s wife. The Perfect Scandal has one character who engages in cutting and the other is missing a leg and neck-deep in political intrigue. I don’t know why, but I thought this might be something just a little more sedate after the first two.
Banished to England for some reason she can’t fathom and told she’s going to have to marry, Countess Zosia Kwiatkowska has decided she’s going to marry someone who’ll help her further her political interests. Investigating her neighbor, she’s found he’s got a high enough seat in Parliament and is respected enough that he’ll do, so she sets about finding a way to introduce herself to him – for the unconventional Countess, it’s having an improper conversation with Tristan from her bedroom window one night as he stands below watching her. Tristan is intrigued – and scandalized – by Zosia.
When Tristan’s overprotective grandmother finds out he’s been seen talking to the mysterious Countess, she forbids him from seeing her, which only makes him determined to meet her formally. Zosia tells him about her desire to campaign on behalf of the Polish people using his Parliamentary seat and he finds out that she lost part of her leg; she finds out that Tristan isn’t the staid, passionless man she thought he was. Because of a tragedy in his past, he’d developed the habit of cutting himself with a razor – he constantly carried his razor case with him. Just when the two figured out they’re misfits that fit perfectly together, a big mess of Russian and Polish politics explodes and the story veers off into strange-land.
Marvelle does deep and disturbed very well. Tristan was the epitome of a leashed beast and when Zosia accepted him for what he was and didn’t condemn him for what he’d done to himself, she freed a darker, sexual side of him. He gave me shivers sometimes with the things he didn’t do with her – half of the things he said he was going to do to her or the things he imagined doing with her were more flamingly hot than if they’d actually taken place because of her (or his) reaction to them. As in the earlier two books, the chapters were led by quotes from How to Avoid a Scandal, although in this case, they were Tristan’s rough draft, occasionally containing expletives and a few suggestive comments that said more about him than the final version. The man has a way with words.
It would be an understatement to say I was surprised Marvelle chose to go with a one-legged crusading Polish Countess for her heroine. That’s not to say I didn’t like Zosia – she was wickedly flirtatious and it was a pleasure to read her banter with Tristan. Beyond the beginning of the story when she was pursuing Tristan though, things just happened to her. She stopped being a woman who did things and became a woman who went where she was led, even if it happened to be that most of the time she was forced to go by circumstances.
As a matter of personal taste, I think there are only so many obstacles that should be shoved in one book. Tristan’s cutting. Zosia’s missing leg. Tristan’s grandmother is agoraphobic. Zosia’s fervor for Polish rights. No fewer than six more within the last several chapters alone including my least favorite trope plus a deus ex machina as the cherry on top. I adored Tristan, I wanted to see him happy but I’d just about had it with the intrigue and silliness. There were serious issues here that Marvelle had given some insightful and intelligent voice to, just as she had in her earlier books, but they were hidden because of what felt like a loss of focus to me. Once Upon a Scandal worked so well for me because it chose one issue and the relationship; Prelude to a Scandal did roughly the same.
My Summary: Despite being what felt like an out of control rollercoaster by the end, there were elements of this book that kept redeeming it in spite of itself. Marvelle continues to fascinate me with her flawed characters and depth of research and she isn’t lacking in original ideas. If some of the politics and insanity at the end had been left out, this story would have been better for it though.
My Rating: B-