walkitout (walkitout) wrote,

_Her Scandalous Marriage_, Leslie Lafoy (kindle)

I read one previous book by Lafoy based on K.'s recommendation; it was a contemporary and I initially had a ton of reservations about it but it turned out to be amazingly good. Ditto, here.

This Victorian romance starts out with Our Hero, the new Duke of Ryland, formerly a regimental officer named Drayton Mackenzie (but Scottish by heritage some generations back, so if you're allergic to Scottish romances, don't worry about that here; if you're _looking_ for Scottish romances, you won't find it here), arriving on the doorstep of Our Heroine's dress shop. She is the illegitimate daughter of the late Duke of Ryland (not Drayton's father), and There is a Will.

The will is really sort of interesting. Lafoy went to some effort to actually make the whole thing plausible. The late Duke married a rich woman from Austria, and she got (enough) control of her property to make real trouble for him. Her will (she predeceased) required him to track down his three illegitimate daughters, have them recognized (by Queen Vic), and give them dowries and find them suitable husbands. Or he didn't get any of her money, which of course he desperately needed because he did such a crap job managing his estates and gambled as well.

The beginning of the book is collecting the three young women: the next two are a 14 year old (picked up at a brothel where her mother worked until she was murdered) and an 11 year old (raised by relatives and not treated well). Then off to the country house. The beach house is truly falling apart (a wall fell into the sea and the furniture has been stolen). The town house is better. The country house -- where the agricultural land is -- is in pretty good shape and the staff is good with the exception of the managers of the rental receipts and the harvest. They've both been shaving to the tune of 50% collectively. One of Drayton's first actions is to collect evidence of same and find an honest enough magistrate to try them. They had stashed a lot of their ill-gotten gains in accounts and it was thus recoverable.

Meanwhile back at the house, Caroline (our heroine who ran a dress shop) puts her skills to work fixing the country house up for company and getting some dresses on the girls. Drayton has a couple friends from the regiment who are younger sons; they descent to become part of his entourage, and Aubrey brings along his mother, who brings along a horde of titled whack jobs. Lady Aubrey is supposed to make the whole thing respectable and preserve everyone's reputation, but in practice is quite snobby and critical and serves two purposes in the novel. (1) She drives Caroline and Drayton repeatedly into each other's arms. (2) She's a prudish hypocrite to highlight the truly depraved antics of the rest of the houseguests. (3) She opens Drayton's eyes to the hidious politics of his friend Viscount Aubrey and the conservatives as a whole. Caroline and Drayton might well have just continued to ignore politics entirely, or based their political opinions on whatever the somewhat decent people around them believed. But with everyone telling them they can't marry because if they marry other people, they can lay hands on so _much_ more money, they eventually start asking why it is that they are supposed to be so miserable for something they don't particularly need.

And that is what really raises this book up. You could definitely complain about anachronistic language. Easily. But the political waters navigated by Caroline and Drayton are implicitly present in plenty of other romance novels, and generally speaking the behavior of the characters is framed as the Conservatives would frame it, and any exceptions are made "for love". Lafoy also chose to clearly depict Caroline as doing work in the household that previous generations of women in titled families would have engaged in, but which had become unacceptable in a world in which status was defined primarily by idleness. And she chose to depict Drayton working in the harvest -- and both Drayton and Caroline as unwilling to take labor away from where it was truly needed to do work that they could as easily do themselves.

I really enjoyed this. There are issues with it as a "historical" novel, but as a historical romance, it was a ton of fun and much less annoying than a lot of its sort are.
Tags: book review, historical romance

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