I do not do historical romance. I can't get into modern women writing about regency dukes and ladies and their scandalous affairs, with all the bad historical research and terrible metaphors for genitalia that genre entails. But now, I have to shamefully admit I finally read one. And you know what? I didn't just like it. I loved loved loved it!
If there is one trashy book I cannot escape on any romance review site or blog, it's Loretta Chase's Lord of Scoundrels. On my two favorite romance blogs (dearauthor.com and smartbitchestrashybooks.com), it's constantly referenced. It's something of a Holy Grail in the romance community, apparently. So I finally caved. Fine, I thought. I'll see for myself what's so darn special about something that seems so darn stupid.
HOLY. CRAP. This book kicks ass.
The plot sounds ridiculous: Sebastian Leslie Guy de Ath Ballister, the Marquess of Dain (he's just called Dain throughout the book) lives a life of ridiculous debauchery in Paris until he meets and falls for Jessica Trent, who eventually redeems her beloved scoundrel. It sounds cliche. But Chase is a lot better than most regency romance writers. She gives her characters actual personalities and sets up complications in their story that come from these personalities rather than actual outside stupidness (well, there's an external plot factor late in the book, but even that largely plays into the hero's redemption story rather than creating false plot points). Dain is definitely a scoundrel, but he also has a sad past that explains a lot of his issues without making excuses for them. Jessica, meanwhile, is clever and confident and works for what she wants. And, unlike most romance heroines, she didn't annoy me. I can't state enough how intriguing and well-written these characters are.
The thing that kept this book from just being another trashy historical romance was Chase's storytelling. The whole thing unfolds so masterfully and circles back in on its own themes and images so well that it's no surprise Chase is something of a legend in the romance world. The novel begins with the lonely upbringing of Dain, plays through a sweet and hilarious back-and-forth romance with Jessica through the middle, and ends with Dain (no longer the monster he was at the beginning) getting over his issues to keep his illegitimate son from falling into the same despair he felt as a child. Chase does a fantastic job of bringing all the disparate plots and themes and characters together in the end without being oversentimental.
And I think that's what I liked best about this book. Sure, it was extremely funny, featured a tortured hero, and was well-written. But mostly, it managed to be romantic and redemptive without being sentimental and melodramatic. Kudos, Loretta Chase. You're no Fitzgerald or Marilynne Robinson, but you still managed to hook me.
So for any of you who are starting to get into trashy books, I can't recommend this one enough. Lord of Scoundrels is probably the most fun I've had reading a book since I finished Good Omens back in January.