by Amanda Quick, historical (1991)
Bantam, $4.99, ISBN 0-553-28932-2
Scandal is an awesome example of how Amanda Quick can play me like a violin if she puts her mind to it. I started out rolling my eyes at the heroine's dingbat antics, but by the last page of this story, something amazing has happened: the heroine has the hero's manhood completely at her mercy, although she's naturally a sweet young lady who will cherish her power instead of crushing him to pieces and making him cry like a baby. Normally I would expect such a story from Christina Dodd, but in this book, heroine Emily Farringdon can give Ms Dodd's heroines master classes on how to tame the beast and make him beg for more.
Our hero, Simon Traherne, has nothing but revenge on his mind. To make a long story short, he blames a few men of the Ton for turning their backs on him and his mother after the death of his father. Those men were in a business partnership with his father, but when the man died, they pretended that his father was not entitled to any money gained from the business venture. Now a self-made rich man, Simon has returned from his sojourns in the more exotic parts of Asia to enact his revenge. He will, of course, ruin those men the way they ruined him and his mother. As he puts his plans into motion, he begins corresponding with Emily Farringdon.
Emily is the key to his plan when it comes to crushing the Farringdons. The rest of the Farringdons (the father and Emily's brothers) are irresponsible twits with no head for money, and it is Emily's head for accounts and her shrewdness in making profitable investments that is keeping the family afloat. In other words, Emily is the Farringdons' secret weapon and if he manages to marry Emily, he will have power to stop Emily from bailing out her family from their often disastrous attempts at maintaining their extravagant lifestyles. The Farringdons will then go down, bwahaha!
Simon knows that Emily is a silly and naïve young lady whose head is perpetually stuck in the clouds. Why else would she be convinced that he is her true love from merely reading his silly letters that are full of insipid sentiments? But when they finally meet in person, Simon realizes that marrying Emily will be no hardship at all on his part. The lady is sweet, agreeable, and unexpectedly appealing despite her Plain Jane bluestocking trappings. Now, all he has to do is control his own lust for her, dominate her, and make her fall completely under his spell so that she will do anything he tells her to. Emily is, after all, a most agreeable and such a malleable woman... isn't she?
I don't want to spoil the story too much, so let me just say that while Emily's ridiculous infatuation with Simon can really grate at first - Simon is right, she is in love with a fantasy she has created from his correspondences with her - Ms Quick will slowly peel away Emily's layered personality as the story progresses. I will learn that Emily may be naïve, but she is not stupid. Her fantasies are actually part of her defense mechanism - she knows how her family is using her and how she is utterly alone, forced to take care of herself since she was young because no one else would, and escaping into daydreams of falling in love with a Prince Charming is her way of keeping the hope alive, so to speak, that her life will take a turn for the better one day. Needless to say, I'm not so annoyed by Emily anymore - I actually pity her by that point and I also understand how she would be so fixated on the first man who arrives in her lonely life that fits her fantasy of her knight in shining armor.
What I find too amusing - and touching - is Simon's eventual scrambling to convince Emily that he is the man she has been dreaming of. It serves him right, really - he spent considerable time trying to turn his wife against her family while attempting to convince her that he is not her fantasy lover, only to end up realizing that she has become so important to him that he'd move mountains and even give up his revenge plot to make her happy.
What makes this book work is that Simon doesn't come off as deliberately cruel to me. Oh, I understand that he wants his revenge, and after what he has been through, I can't say I blame him for being angry. But Ms Quick at the same time shows me that there is a very real component of tenderness in Simon's interactions with Emily. Even at his most arrogant, he is never cruel to Emily. In a way, he is right that Emily is naïve in believing that he is the prince who will slay all her dragons and the most cruel thing he can do to Emily in this case is to tell her that she has set up a fantasy of him in her head, one that need not necessarily be true. This story also works very well because Emily isn't stupid. Oh, she is no doubt naïve and she is lucky that Simon isn't a monster who will treat her badly, but at the same time, I have to applaud the way she slowly but surely manipulates Simon into getting her way without him realizing anything. Seriously, there is one scene where she gets Simon to aid the man he wants to destroy in a way that has to be read to be believed - Simon truly doesn't know he is being manipulated, heh, and Emily is going about it so sweetly and confidently that I'm truly in awe.
Scandal is about how a marriage that happened for all the wrong reasons turns out to be one that is so unexpectedly right. Simon is a very well-done example of a confident man who thinks he knows everything... only to realize that he is a fool in love like everyone else. Emily is a more complicated character here. I know many readers are put off by her naïveté, but I think that if you exercise patience with her, she may just charm and surprise you the way she charmed and surprised me.
Scandal is one of the best books I've read from Ms Quick. Patience is needed for the parts of the story leading up to the wedding, but on the whole, reading this book is a most subliminally enjoyable experience.
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