Season for Scandal by Theresa Romain

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Jane Tindall has never had money of her own or exceptional beauty. Her gifts are more subtle: a mind like an abacus, a talent for play-acting—and a daring taste for gambling. But all the daring in the world can’t help with the cards fixed against her.

And when Edmund Ware, Baron Kirkpatrick, unwittingly spoils her chance to win a fortune, her reputation is ruined too. Or so she thinks, until he suggests a surprising mode of escape: a hasty marriage. To him.

On the surface, their wedding would satisfy all the demands of proper society, but as the Yuletide approaches, secrets and scandals turn this proper marriage into a very improper affair.

Rating: B

Up until about three-quarters of the way through, this was going to be a 4.5 star read, possibly a DIK for AAR. But the last 20% or so didn’t live up to the early promise, so I’ve downgraded it a bit.

Season for Scandal grabbed me immediately and had me tearing up by about a quarter of the way through. The characterisation of the hero and heroine was excellent and the story was well-written with plenty of humour and wonderful dialogue along the way – but I’m sorry to say that the final twenty per cent or so didn’t live up to the promise of the rest of the story. The author had so beautifully captured the emotions and longings of two people who had such capacity for love but were unable (for different reasons) to express it, that the dénouement felt simultaneously rushed and lacking in momentum.

Jane Tindall is cousin to Alex Edgeware, Lord Xavier (hero of the previous book). She is possessed of neither beauty nor fortune, but she has a mind like a steel trap and a longing for independence and a life that is something “more” than the one that would seem to be laid out before her.

Jane has been in love with Edmund Ware, Lord Kirkpatrick, for years and when circumstances arise that threaten her social ruin and he steps in to offer her his hand in marriage, she has no choice but to accept, even though she knows her feelings are not returned.

But she is hopeful. Edmund is a kind and considerate man, and she thinks that perhaps love will grow from their friendship in time.

The problem, however, is that Edmund is kind and considerate to everyone. He dances with wallflowers, flirts with widows and does his best to make everyone he meets feel valued – and believes it will be enough to treat his wife in the same manner. But what nobody knows is that Edmund’s kindness to all and sundry masks deeply-rooted self-disgust and guilt, and that he sees his consideration and generosity as a way to atone for the past deeds that tore his family apart.

Edmund’s spur-of-the-moment proposal to Jane came of selfish reasons as well as a desire to help a woman in distress. He is haunted by his past, a past which is about to catch up with him in the form of a man named Turner who, Edmund has just learned, has recently returned to England after twenty-years spent in a penal colony. Being Edmund, his immediate instinct is to protect his mother and sisters, despite the fact that he has next to no contact with them at all, and in order to do that, he determines to secure his estates by producing an heir as quickly as possible.

The Marriage of Convenience is a favourite trope of mine, and I think that the author has put a slightly different spin on it which made the heroine’s longing for her husband’s affection especially poignant and heart-wrenching. On their wedding night, in the throes of passion, Jane blurts out her true feelings – which horrifies her new spouse. He had no idea that Jane was in love with him – he hadn’t wanted love, given that he is unable to return it.

Jane is mortified – both at Edmund’s reaction to her confession and her own carelessness in making it. She attempts to shrug it off, insisting that it doesn’t matter, that she doesn’t expect a return and that it won’t make any difference.

But she very quickly realises the error in that statement when she begins to see that Edmund behaves towards her in much the same way as he does to everyone – he’s kind, courteous and solicitous of her comfort, but in exactly the same way he is kind and courteous towards every other woman he meets, whether it’s in a ballroom, or on the street rescuing a blown-away bonnet. She quickly finds that Edmund’s insistence on giving her gifts, or in trying to do and say things that he thinks are what she wants – incredibly frustrating, because what she really wants is something of him, his time, his companionship, to be his significant other rather than just an other woman.

But Edmund locked away his “self” a long time ago, after the events that led to the death of his father and destroyed his family. Believing himself to have betrayed them all, Edmund has cultivated an air of dependability, ruthlessly controlling his emotions and hiding them beneath his outward veneer of composed affability. It’s clear that guilt is part of the reason for his desire to be kind to everyone he meets. He has separated himself from his mother and sisters because he believes it to be the best thing for them; and as he can’t help them in person, he helps them by proxy, in bestowing his attentions on others instead.

A hero possessed of a dark and dirty secret in his past who has voluntarily separated himself from his family is not an unknown character – type in romance. But here, Ms Romain has done something more than just present the reader with a tortured, self-sacrificing hero; she has also shown the negative side of Edmund’s ruthless self-control, and not just in the sense that it is causing his wife distress and heartbreak. Edmund the good Samaritan would have been rather a one-dimensional and somewhat unlikeable character, I think – nobody could be that good! Countering that is the fact that what Edmund sees as his “atonement” is actually a very selfish and convenient way of giving nothing of himself to anyone. Real feeling is too difficult and painful, so he has chosen to close himself off to it in favour of things that are easier to give – kind words and attentions to random strangers or minor acquaintances which cost him nothing.

While Jane is, for the most part, a more sympathetic character, she is not without her faults, either. Her impulsiveness and her determination, as she says, not to live a ‘small life’ initially blind her to the fact that Edmund’s emotional detachment is not some sort of passing phase – and when she realises that he isn’t able to be the husband she wants him to be, she leaves him, after a mere few weeks of marriage.

The fact that she could simply remove herself to her cousin’s house meant that it was easier for her to run away than to try to make something of their marriage or to attempt to understand her husband. It’s true that he did not seem willing to share his troubles with her, but it struck me that ultimately, it was Jane who opted to take the easy way out rather than stay around a little longer to see if she could find a way to get Edmund to open up to her.

Fortunately however, her action does precipitate a positive development in that after she has left, both she and Edmund start to think more deeply about their respective situations, and at last find that they are able to properly talk to each other. These ‘talks’ are not pleasant, as Jane tells Edmund:

“You’ve left your heart behind somewhere long ago, but you’ve never gone back to get it. You look for little pieces of it in everyone you meet. You make everyone love you, just a little. But what do you feel in return? Nothing, because you’re always looking for what’s next.”

– while he tells her that what she wants is some imagined, unreal version of himself who doesn’t exist.

The roiling emotions that Jane and Edmund were both working so hard to conceal came across beautifully on the page, especially in the way that neither of them wanted to hurt the other while having absolutely no idea about what they really wanted from each other. The things that hurt Jane so deeply were things that might, on the surface, seem fairly small things. Edmund didn’t beat her, he didn’t betray her with another woman or steal from her – instead it seemed he wanted to kill her with kindness, because it was all he was prepared to offer her.

Coming on the heels of such incredible emotional insight, I can’t help feeling that Ms Romain dropped the ball in the final section of the book, which felt almost commonplace by comparison. Edmund decides he has no alternative but to confess his ‘sins’ to Jane and they concoct a plan to force Turner abroad once more, this time never to return. And I couldn’t help thinking: “if he’d done this a couple of hundred pages ago, neither of them needed to have been made so miserable”. Which, of course, would have led to a much shorter book.

In the end, it wasn’t about one of the protagonists ‘giving in’ to the other, or finally being prepared to do what it took to salvage things between them – and I felt that fact set this story apart from many other romances with similar storylines. Both characters had to grow as people before they could grow together as lovers. Edmund finally realises that his life hasn’t really been his for the past twenty years and knows he needs to tell Jane the truth, even if it means she will never return to him. But he tells her because it’s the right thing to do, not because he thinks it will bring her back; and because he has faced the truth about his selfishness in not wanting her to love him because love was too difficult for him to deal with.

Despite my reservations about the ending, I thoroughly enjoyed reading Season for Scandal and would definitely recommend it if you’re looking for a book filled with warmth, humour and with just enough angst to tug at the heartstrings.

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