Slightly Scandalous
by Mary Balogh, historical (2003)
Dell, $5.99, ISBN 0-440-24111-1

While well-written, Mary Balogh's Slightly Scandalous, the closure to this author's "Please, buy my books, I'm putting out three books in three months, just buy one, dammit!" trilogy, is a perfect showcase of an author who doesn't seem to be aware that her plot is filled with unintentional comedy. Make no mistake, the characters sparkle and this book is easily the best of the three books in the Bedwyn trilogy. Unfortunately, the author also opens herself to a volley of good-natured boos and jeers from me because seriously, this book is funny. Funnier, I suspect, than the author ever intended this book to be.

Freyja Bedwyn, defined as "the fiery beauty", first appeared in A Summer To Remember, coming off like a refugee from a Stephanie Laurens novel. Spoiled, proud, all hoyden, Freyja is still smarting from being blown off by her almost-hubby in that book. Well, she's in luck. Now it's her turn to be the Other Woman once more. She encounters Joshua Moore in two dubiously memorable occasions, but things become really too close for comfort when she decides to embark on a false engagement with him. The story then deals with these two characters - the hoyden and the charmer - dealing with their developing attraction to each other.

One thing I best reassure readers who share the same taste in romance novels as me - no, Freyja isn't given the Submissively Virtuous Woman Are Thou smackdown by this author (she probably used all her Virtuous Are Thou preachfest in the truly horrible last book Slightly Wicked). She's the stereotypical hoyden minus the reckless brainlessness, always a good thing, and she can stand up for herself, even better. Josh is pretty nondescript as the ever easygoing charmer. Their developing attraction won't surprise anybody, it's pretty predictable, but these two characters do go well together.

An even better bonus is the villain. Yes, she's an evil woman, but this one is very good. She's not the over-the-top psycho bitch from hell, she's the one who taught Stalin how to be how he was. Josh and Freyja however know how to handle her, so the pleasure comes from the villain and our lead characters always trying to outwit each other. The other secondary characters aren't really necessary, and trust me, by Chapter Fifteen, I've reached a point where if the author tells me one more time how the Bedwyns are incredible, amazing, obstinate, powerful, intelligent, revolutionary, et cetera, I will start taking out my feather duster and do some bum-whacking.

Now, the bonus part - it is just as fun to laugh at the unintentional boo-boos the author makes. Mary Balogh so carefully strings together all the Regency stereotypes in her book, often she has no idea how silly the whole thing is when these stereotypes come together. Nobody seem to be aware of how bratty Freyja is, especially not the author who seems to believe that this stereotypical hoyden is truly extraordinary. Freyja hates shopping and thinks that shopping is a waste of time. Yet she is at the same time always magically clothed in the most fashionable gowns and is considered avant garde. Maybe these clothes magically spring from those amazing butterflies that come around and smooch our heroine's perfectly nectared lips while spinning a cocoon around her. I find it hilarious also that the author has Freyja, without any hint of irony or self-awareness, making herself the willing other woman and coming between Josh and Constance (not that Constance is unhappy about it, far from it, in fact) while grumbling that her life is "dreary" because the woman his ex married has given birth to a son. A beautiful, avant garde woman who manages to be the epitome of stereotypical female beauty while claiming to despise the actions other lesser women desperately practice to attain her Aphroditian beauty; a woman as rich as Croesus and accepted among the finest ranks of the rich and privileged - oh yes, her life is so dreary indeed, oh poor gal. And my favorite will have to be how Freyja declares that so what if he's a libertine and licentious sort, she feels alive when she's with him, so ho, voila, come to momma! It is so reassuring to see that be they Mary Baloghs or Stephanie Laurenses, however disparate their status may be, their heroines will forever be a little whacked in the head that same way. "Historical accuracy" is the better equalizer among romance authors compared to publisher mergers.

This review is not for the die-hard Mary Balogh fan who swears that everything the author writes is spun from pure gold. This review is for the reader who sits on the fence where Mary Balogh is concerned - like me, for example. For what it's worth, this book is fun, although there is none of the intensity and character development this author is famed for. It's pleasant but forgettable, although I find there is a lingering disquiet long after this book is done - a disquiet caused by just how wrong it is that a veteran author known for her strong and complex characters seem to be trying to follow the footsteps of junior upstarts like Stephanie Laurens and Julia Quinn. Sure, the roof needs repairs, daddy needs a new nail gun, and momma needs new shoes, but somehow, this situation still doesn't feel entirely right.

Rating: 78

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