Scandal of the Season by Liana LeFay

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Five years ago, Lord Sorin Latham fled England’s shores to avoid heartbreak and scandal in the form of one Lady Eleanor Cramley. On returning home, he finds the young miss he used to scold for lack of decorum is now a stunning woman who fires his blood. But he must resist temptation or risk losing his honor as a gentleman and the friendship of those he holds dear, including Eleanor.

Lady Eleanor is determined to be the paragon of propriety Sorin urged her to become. But now that he’s back, the man she once thought of as an older brother makes her long to be anything but proper. She must make Sorin see her as worthy of his heart and his desire without losing his good opinion, or her Season will end in disgrace.

Rating: C-

Scandal of the Season is a standalone friends-to-lovers historical romance in which the twelve-year age gap between the principals means that the hero has been something of an older brother and mentor figure to the heroine for most of their lives. The premise attracted me – one of my favourite books of all time is Jane Austen’s Emma – but it unfortunately falls largely flat here, as pacing, characterisation and plot issues drag the story down. There is also a particularly problematic scene which I’ll discuss later in the review plus – I spent most of the book wondering what the scandal was and when I was going to find out about it!

Lady Eleanor Cramley, cousin to Charles, Duke of Ashford, grew up in her cousin’s family after the death of her parents when she was a child. Charles’ closest friend, Sorin Latham, Lord Wincanton (Sorin? Seriously? What sort of name is that for a 19th century English nobleman?) was often around when she was growing up and did his best to curb the worst of her hoydenish tendencies and teach her the importance of proper behaviour. When she’s sixteen, he becomes suddenly, uncomfortably aware that she is now a young woman and, realising his feelings for her go deeper than friendship, is rather cool and aloof towards her, which upsets her and makes her wonder what she’s done wrong. Sorin is horrified at the idea of lusting after his friend’s cousin, so he decides to keep as far away from her as possible and leaves England to travel abroad. Returning after an absence of five years, he is somewhat dismayed to discover that his attraction to Eleanor hasn’t abated – if anything it’s stronger – but he is determined not to act upon it (even though there is absolutely nothing preventing him from doing so) because he thinks he’ll crush her spirit if he marries her and because he thinks considering her in an amorous light is a betrayal of Charles’ trust.

Eleanor was upset by Sorin’s coldness but they have repaired their friendship and been regular correspondents during his five year absence. When he returns, she is overjoyed to see him and hopes things will return to the way they were, but when her flighty friend, Caroline, sets her cap at Sorin, Eleanor finds herself unaccountably jealous, and, in spite of her avowal to remain unmarried, slowly comes to realise that perhaps there could be something else between them, something more than friendship.

That’s the story in a nutshell, but almost the entire first half is taken up with Sorin being determined not to let Eleanor know how he feels and Eleanor thinking about how very poorly she must compare to his former fiancée (who died in a riding accident a decade earlier), who was sweet and demure and perfect.  It starts very slowly and more or less stays that way; my interest wasn’t really engaged until around the 40% mark when the villain of the piece and his mother – who are cartoonish in the extreme, but oddly entertaining – made their appearances.  She’s a vulgar social climber, he’s a handsome fortune-hunter who is full of himself and unpleasant and both of them are so over the top that they injected a bit of life into an otherwise dull story.

For all his insistence that he should keep away from Eleanor because he’s too old, too staid and too cynical for her, when Sorin’s mother realises how he feels and encourages him to court Eleanor, all his misgivings go out the window and he does a complete turn-about.  He could simply ask Eleanor’s cousin Charles for her hand and take things from there, but he doesn’t want her to accept him out of a sense of obligation; he wants to give her time to come to see him as a potential husband rather than a brother.  And while he’s trying to think of ways to make that happen – and worrying she will never think of him differently – Eleanor realises she’s fallen for him, isn’t the type of woman to make him happy and is miserable at the prospect of having to watch him marry someone else.

Pretty much the entire book is taken up with Sorin thinking he might have missed his chance with Eleanor and Eleanor despairing that she never had a chance with Sorin… For two people who are supposed to know each other inside out, they’re remarkably unintuitive.

The titular scandal doesn’t come into play until close to the end (around 80% on my Kindle), and it’s of the blink-and-you’ll-miss-it variety.  It’s well thought-out, but there isn’t enough of it to sustain a 300-page book and it’s too little, too late.  It also leads to the problematic scene I mentioned earlier.  I’ll try to avoid spoilers, but in the book’s only love scene, things become heated between the couple while Eleanor is under the influence of a drug (that wasn’t given to her by Sorin, I hasten to add). They don’t have sex, but there’s kissing (for the first time) and he does bring her to climax.  She doesn’t stop him, and he beats himself up about it afterwards but still… at best, it’s unsexy and unromantic, and at worst dubious consent – and either way, I didn’t like it and it has knocked my final grade down even further.

Scandal of the Season is the first book by Liana LeFay I’ve read and I’m afraid it hasn’t inspired me to seek out any more of her work.  The storyline is unoriginal and the characters are bland and inconsistent.  Eleanor’s friend Caroline is a man-trapping-gold-digger one minute and remorseful and mindful of her reputation the next.  Eleanor is determined never to marry, then – whoops!  No she isn’t because she’s realised Sorin is hot and that she wants to marry him.  Sorin must keep away from Eleanor because she needs someone younger and more exciting –but then his mum says he should marry her and suddenly all his qualms about courting her disappear.

It’s a sad fact that the villainous Yarborough and his unrefined mama are the most memorable characters in the book – they’re two dimensional and nasty (he just needs a cape and a moustache to twirl!) but they at least made an impression.  Sorin and Eleanor have zero chemistry, and I very quickly tired of their constant navel gazing and the whole “I am not worthy” thing they had going on.  The book is fairly well written and parts of it are quite readable, although the author is another one who has no idea of the correct usage of English titles (Yarborough is constantly and incorrectly addressed as “Sir Yarborough” instead of “Sir Douglas” – it’s ALWAYS “Sir Firstname” and NEVER “Sir Lastname”).

Ultimately, Scandal of the Season is scandalously dull and I can’t recommend it.