Full Description: Amazon
Rating: 4 out of 5
Thoughts After Reading:
Even after finishing Grace Burrowes' Lady Maggie's Secret Scandal, I'm not confident in my opinion of it. It's either a beautifully crafted read, or a book written by someone who is talented enough to make a flawed story appear believable. Here's what I mean: in most aspects, the novel is undeniably well written. The book relies on suspense and meaningful character interactions (both between the protagonists and a multitude of secondary characters) to keep reader immersed in the unfolding story. Instead of laugh out loud moments, the narration includes a fair amount of intelligent humor that helps the reader feel closer to the characters. The romance is very moving, and the story manages a suspenseful level of angst without ever becoming depressing. At the same time, however, I spent at least a third of the book wondering if the overarching conflict is actually reasonable. Which is tremendously important, because the entire, complex story depends on that conflict.
As the title blatantly promises, our heroine - Lady Maggie - is hiding a secret. I'm just going to go ahead and state what it is, because it is quite relevant to the plot. It is publicly known that the heroine is bastard of a duke, even though her father and stepmother accepted her as their child. Once the parents found out the heroine exists, they actually had to pay the heroine's birth mother in order to adopt the heroine (so to speak). The heroine grew up to become a beautiful woman but has turned down all of her marriage offers. She does have dreams of marriage and a family, but her secret has weighted her down. Her secret is thus: her she has a younger sister, and her biological mother claims that the sister is another bastard of the duke's. The heroine's mother has been blackmailing the heroine for the past 14 or so years - ever since the heroine's come-out at sixteen. The heroine sees the sister as her responsibility. She doesn't want to talk to the duke and duchess about it, because she feels they wouldn't be in the tough situation if they hadn't adopted her. Also, she doesn't want to devastate the duchess if it turns out the duke had cheated on her. So instead of putting her heart into the marriage mart, she's devoted herself to learning about finance and business - that way, she can keep paying for her sister. And on some levels, this thought process seemly absolutely insane. The heroine has wasted fourteen years of life becoming on the shelf and lonely to the point of occasionally considering suicide in the past, and all for no reason. Her family obviously loves her, and if she had just mustered the courage to confide in them everything could have been worked long ago, one way or another. I mean, if nothing else a duke had enormous power, and I can't imagine the law would side with a commoner. The only reason I can't quite mark up the major conflict as inane is that it does seem possible that a scared sixteen year old might start out paying the blackmail, and the secret could have just spiraled over the years.
Anyway, that's all backstory. The heroine has been shaped by all of this history, into an independent woman whose outwardly reserved but has all of these secret hopes and dreams. Shortly after the book opens, the heroine's reticule becomes missing with letters between her and her sister so she hires the hero to find them. The heroine and hero have one of those semi-antagonistic relationships, where they secretly find each other very attractive but start out on each other's bad side. The hero has his own secret: he's an earl, but hides his title so its easier for him to be an investigator for hire. Why he chose that path isn't entirely clear, but it sounded like one of his main motivations was that he needed to earn money to repair his estate and provide dowries for his sisters. Apparently Regency investigation could be very lucrative, who knew? As the protagonists end up spending time around each other, their physical attractions develop into deeper feelings. The hero actually seems to fall quicker than the heroine, as it doesn't take long for him to become very protective and possessive. There are numerous touching moments as the romance progresses, mostly involving the hero comforting the heroine. The storyline eventually evolves to where the hero is determined to marry the heroine, but she doesn't feel she can share her secret. There are also quite a few entertaining yet meaningful scenes between the heroine and her family, as well as between the hero and his friends. The conflicts eventually get worked out, and the resolutions were mostly satisfying.
The general feel of Burrowes's Lady Maggie's Secret Scandal is very reminiscent of Devlyn's A Lady's Revenge. In both cases, we have suspense-driven plots that are very difficult to understand in their entirety. It's almost as if the author has the story all worked out in her head, but isn't quite able to translate it to the pages of the book. The result is a really interesting, fast-paced plot, but one where the major conflict and quite a bit of the backstory feels murky. These factors also make it very difficult to describe the story. I guess the best thing to say is that I feel Lady Maggie's Secret Scandal is probably a book worth reading, but especially so if you can ignore some elements in the novel that just don't make sense.