Saturday, April 21, 2012

Review: Scandalous Virtue by Brenda Hiatt (4.5 stars, historical)

Full Description: Amazon

Rating: 4.5 out of 5

Thoughts After Reading:
What Brenda Hiatt manages to do with the plot of her historical romance Scandalous Virtue, particularly in the first part of the novel, is quite impressive and rather original. She effectively creates a fair amount of gender reversal between the protagonists, while still maintaining the conventional plot of a worldly rake and innocent miss. The result is a fully engaging and overall satisfactory read, both in terms of the storyline and the romance. The relationship storyline is what I'm dubbing a marriage-of-convenience hybrid, where the marriage takes place neither towards the end of the book nor at the beginning, but smack dab in the middle. There were a few elements of the novel that bothered me, but nothing too significant. It's also worth mentioning that the book did have a couple of love scenes, but they were relatively mild.

The heroine is a twenty-four year old widow, who was married to an old man for five years. Her father was one of those extremely strict and proper characters, and he married her off to an old gentleman of a similar nature at the age of eighteen. The book opens with her year of mourning being almost complete. Now that she's free of both her husband and father, she's ready to rebel a little and experience more of the world. What she emphatically does not want is another husband. One of the funnest things about her character is that she often tries to act sophisticated, even though that's not really her nature. The heroine's first marriage was consummated, but she has had very little experience with sex and sees it as an unhappy chore.  She first meets the hero when she "daringly" attends a masquerade ball. Nothing untoward occurs, but she does give him a quick kiss before she leaves. The hero, meanwhile, starts out as about as much of a rake as possible. When his grandfather deathbed letter challenges him to become respectable, however, and ties the hero's inheritance to the task, the hero considers marrying to help himself become respectable and avoid temptation. And, the more time he spends with the heroine, the more time he likes the idea. In this book it's the hero who falls fairly effortlessly for the heroine, even though it takes him a while to admit it's love (and even longer to say it out loud). The heroine, meanwhile, is initially turned off by the idea that the handsome hero wants to become more staid (she starts out with a naive and idealized idea of "debauchery"). Her main reason for agreeing to the proposal is avoid causing her sister problems with her impropriety. Once the marriage issues get worked out (ie. the heroine's fear of the marriage bed), we get set up for a romance conflict and then a final external conflict at the end of the book. For the romance conflict, let's just say it involves secret spy work, mild jealousy and mistrust, and petty revenge. The conflict never got out of hand, but I didn't find it particularly appealing either. There is an extended resolution to that conflict, which actually takes the time to address quite a few issues (like the heroine observing revelry and realizing is nothing like she imagined), and their happy ending seems to be fully realized. I really liked that part of the book :).

So I think it was pretty cool, what Brenda Hiatt achieved with Scandalous Virtue. Not only was it the heroine who didn't really want the marriage initially, but it was also her who had the harder time understanding the appeal of respectability. The later conflicts were less unique, but the fact that the book spent a good chuck of time fully developing the HEA increased my general appreciation of the novel.  As a whole, Scandalous Virtue was an enjoyable read that stepped just a bit outside of the box.

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