Lord of Scoundrels by Loretta Chase (audiobook) – narrated by Kate Reading

LoS audio

They call him many names, but angelic isn’t one of them.

Sebastian Ballister, the notorious Marquess of Dain, is big, bad, and dangerous to know. No respectable woman would have anything to do with the “Bane and Blight of the Ballisters”, and he wants nothing to do with respectable women. He’s determined to continue doing what he does best – sin and sin again – and all’s going swimmingly…until the day a shop door opens and she walks in.

She’s too intelligent to fall for the worst man in the world.

Jessica Trent is a determined young woman, and she’s going to drag her imbecile brother off the road to ruin, no matter what it takes. If saving him – and with him her family and future – means taking on the devil himself, she won’t back down. The trouble is, the devil in question is so shockingly irresistible that the person who needs saving most is Jessica herself.

Rating: A+ for content and A+ for narration

It’s been a while since I read Lord of Scoundrels, and although I know it’s a very highly regarded historical romance – it topped All About Romance’s top 100 Romances poll yet AGAIN last year – I’d forgotten just how good a book it is.

It was announced sometime in late 2013 that this much-loved book was coming to audio, and fans were eagerly waiting to hear about the choice of narrator and release date. I was among many who had their fingers crossed that Blackstone Audio would choose someone with a proven track-record in romance narration who would be able to do the story justice – and I joined in with the collective sigh of relief when Kate Reading’s name was linked to the project.

Ms Reading is easily one of the best narrators around. She does not narrate a large number of historical romances, although those I’ve heard have been very good indeed, so I settled down with Lord of Scoundrels anticipating an enjoyable audio experience.

And it proved to be extremely enjoyable. For one thing, re-visiting the book served to remind me exactly WHY it has been at the top of AAR’s list for so many years and is such a great favourite with romance readers. It’s beautifully written and characterised – it’s funny, sexy, tender and sweet, and Ms Chase never puts a foot wrong. Dain and Jessica are perfect for each other, and there is never a moment when the reader feels the heroine is behaving stupidly or the hero is too overbearing. One comes away from the novel feeling emotionally satisfied with the story and secure in the knowledge that, whatever life throws at them, they will continue to throw things at each other as they tackle whatever comes their way.

Sebastian Ballister, the Marquess of Dain, is the product of a loveless childhood and has grown up believing it to be his fault. His fiery, Italian mother ran away with her lover when Sebastian was eight years old and his autocratic father immediately sent him away to school where the boy was lonely and miserable. Made fun of because of his mother and his appearance (there are frequent references to Dain’s large, Usignuolo nose), he quickly finds that the best way to treat his tormentors is to show no emotion and, when he’s old and big enough, to beat them to a pulp. By the time he inherits his title, Dain is already known as the “Blight and Bane of the Ballisters”, debauched, ruthless and manipulative.

Miss Jessica Trent is vivacious, beautiful and intelligent. At the advanced age of twenty-seven, she is unmarried by choice, and having spent the past ten years living in the households of relatives, acting as an unpaid nanny, she is now determined to set herself up as an antiques dealer, utilising her talent for unearthing treasures in shops and at auctions and then selling them at a profit.

But her brother Bertie has fallen in with bad company and is very quickly running up huge debts they can ill afford, so she has followed him to Paris to put a stop to it. Expecting Dain to be a massive, unrefined brute of a man she is almost floored when she meets him for the first time –

Bertie had told her Dain was a very large man. She had half expected a hulking gorilla. She had not been prepared for a stallion: big and splendidly proportioned

– and falls head-over-heels in lust with him.

From the moment they meet, the sparks fly with a vengeance as Jessica and Dain embark on a game of one-upmanship in which the sexual tension between them is strung so tautly that it seems as though they’ll be ripping each other’s clothes off any minute and heading for the nearest flat surface.

Dain has never felt so drawn to a woman – in fact, he has expressly given women of good-breeding a very wide birth, preferring to take his sexual pleasure with whores and courtesans who will demand nothing of him but money and who are paid to put up with what he sees as his too-big, too-unattractive form. But Jessica intrigues and infuriates him to the point where he can’t stop thinking about her. She stands up to him like nobody –male or female – ever has, and refuses to back down, and Dain quickly realises he’s besotted with her and that if he doesn’t get away from her soon he’ll find himself in serious trouble.

For her part, Jessica is just as besotted, but knows there is no future in it. Dain is an irredeemable blackguard and will never offer her anything but ruin. And much as she would like to be ruined by him, she is sensible enough to know that such a thing would be disastrous for her future plans.

But on the night before her departure for England, fate takes a hand and Jessica is irredeemably compromised. Dain, however, is furious, believing Jessica had set out to trap him and refuses point blank to do the honourable thing.

Miss Trent’s method of “bringing Dain around” is unorthodox but effective – and before long they are heading back to England for a grand wedding. Dain reasons that if he’s got to be leg-shackled, he might as well do it in style.

There are many things to love about this story , not the least of which are the wit and humour, the tenderness and affectionate teasing, the heart-wrenching story of the young Ballister, and Jessica’s determination that history will not be allowed to repeat itself with his son. But for me, the things that really stand out are Jessica’s keen perceptiveness as to Dain’s nature and what lies beneath that impassive exterior, and Dain’s willingness (eventually) to embrace love in both the romantic and familial sense.

As anyone who listens to audiobooks on a regular basis will know, the choice of narrator is key – and I have to take my hat off to Blackstone for choosing the talented Kate Reading to record Lord of Scoundrels. She has a very pleasant reading voice and she skilfully brings out every nuance of humour or pathos in the story. Her characterisations are all clearly differentiated through the use of a variety of different tones and accents, especially when it comes to the secondary characters; and her portrayal of the two leads was very good indeed. Ms Reading is one of the few female narrators around who can adopt a lower pitch to perform male characters without making it sound unbelievable or as though she’s straining her voice, and I thought the bluff drawl she adopted for Dain suited him well. Her vocalisation of Jessica was similarly appropriate, varying between a crisp, no-nonsense tone and a sensual huskiness.

Listening to Lord of Scoundrels was a thoroughly enjoyable experience, and it’s certainly an audiobook I will revisit soon and often. I really can’t recommend it highly enough.

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