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Prelude to a Scandal (The Scandal Series) Mass Market Paperback – December 21, 2010
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From Publishers Weekly
Marvelle (Lord of Pleasure) tackles several heavy topics at once in this overstuffed Regency. While most ladies would swoon, Lady Justine Fedora Palmer grew up in Africa and handles everything with aplomb. When Justine's father, the earl of Marwood, writes about homosexuality in the animal kingdom, he's arrested for promoting indecency. Justine offers herself to Radcliff, the duke of Bradford, if he will secure the earl's freedom. Radcliff suggests marriage instead, hoping it will save him from sex addiction. Even before Justine figures out the extent of his "obsession," she makes him work, wanting his respect before his body. Radcliff and Justine are refreshingly honest with themselves and each other about what they do, think, and feel. Radcliff's brother and his mistress make a mess of the story at times, but Henri, the gay servant, is a delight. (Jan.)
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When Lady Justine Palmer, raised in South Africa and now residing in Regency London, learns her father, an African naturalist, has landed in debtors’ prison, she realizes she must find someone rich to help him, and soon. She petitions her father’s only patron, Radcliff Morton, the Duke of Bradford. Although Radcliff, a hardened rake, has been in seclusion following an incident with his brother’s mistress in which his face was brutally scarred, he agrees to help Justine on the condition she marry him. He suspects he’s obsessed with sex and hopes marriage will cure him. However, considering he’s spent most of his 33 years wallowing in his decadent lifestyle, Justine wonders if he can change himself into a faithful husband. While occasionally melodramatic, Marvelle’s story of Radcliff coming to know himself, and Justine’s faith in him, is a quintessential romance. In this first of a series of three, Marvelle (Lord of Pleasure, 2009) adds glimpses of African tribal life and quips about animal behavior to leaven the Sturm und Drang of Radcliff’s much-needed makeover. --Pat Henshaw
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The hero and heroine, the Duke of Bradford and his new wife, Justine, are new twists on familiar historical romance types. He's the rake and she's the virginal heroine. But he's a rake who hates himself and his obsession with sex, and she's a virgin whose father writes about sexual (including homosexual) behavior in animals and man, so she's not your typical blushing bride. She's worldly enough to offer herself up to Bradford (her father's patron) without marriage if he'll get her father out of jail, where he's been sent for publishing his unconventional views regarding homosexuality. Fortunately for them both, Bradford asks to marry her instead, but not for the reason she thinks.
I very much liked both characters. Justine is strong, demanding, and witty; she makes mistakes, but readily admits them. Bradford has a good streak in him and strives to be a better man, but doesn't know how. Once he realizes that Justine has put him on the right path, he follows her lead, though not perfectly of course. One of the prior reviewers remarked unfavorably on Bradford's tendency toward drama, which, considering that he's an addict, I found to be spot-on. All the addicts I've known are self-focused and sometimes histrionic because they don't know how to handle their emotions in constructive ways. They also tend not to be fully realized adults, stuck somewhere in their pre-teen or teenage years. Bradford certainly fits that description. He self-medicates with sex, not realizing why. And not understanding the difference between lust and love either, because what he's known of love has been mixed with deceit and hate. But he isn't stupid. He knows his life can't continue on the same course; he just doesn't know how to fix it. Finally he hits on a solution--he'll marry, with the hope that having only a wife as a sexual outlet will help him find self-control.
Justine does and doesn't help him. Mostly she points out where he needs to grow up. She refuses to indulge his poor behavior and demands that he treat her well and with respect. He balks at first, but comes to realize that he needs her, and through his attempts to placate her (which morph into a genuine desire to make her happy), he gradually understands what marriage and love truly are, the difference between love and lust, and why all the sex in the world had never been able to satisfy him before.
I thoroughly enjoyed this book and rooted for these characters to find happiness together. I don't read a lot of historical romance these days because so many of them seem the same, but Delilah Marvelle's books bring a fresh twist to the genre, and she's not afraid to write imperfect heroes and heroines and to take the story and the characters in unexpected directions. To be even truer to the subject, the book could have been even darker and Bradford could have slipped up more, but this book pushes the envelope given the genre and time period. The language is explicit at times, so beware if frank talk or graphic descriptions bother you. If they don't, this book may just be your cup of tea. I'm eagerly looking forward to the next two books in this series (Once Upon a Scandal and The Perfect Scandal).
This is the book I felt I was buying, particularly since the description also implied the heroine, Justine, might be more open or worldly for a woman of that time. Instead, the book was very much geared toward his abstinence even in marriage unless he restrained his desires - which seems counterintuitive since he wasn't allowed to, um, be alone either. The heroine came across as more of a dominatrix than a wife, but that seems utterly unintentional -- because I could have settled for that. ::grin:: Since they went to the opera, I'm thinking of the aria from Turandot, Nessun Dorma, meaning "none shall sleep" and wondering how you say, "none get laid." (Okay, rarely.)
I'd like to say that the writer made a valid choice to make it truly about sexual addiction as a bad thing with psychological roots, but that's not the way it was marketed and not particularly what I wanted to read at the moment I selected this. That would have been rather interestingly subversive however if it had been marketed that way and even more fully embraced. Instead, it was as if the book were torn between the steamy romance it was marketed as and something new - a breaking away from romance novel expectations. Of course, then the last portion was traditional again.
I was expected it to be more in the vein of romantic fantasy where a high libido is praised, the hero is usually alpha, and rakish behavior is considered good. The story seemed torn between naughtiness and Puritanism and I think that, based on genre expectations and marketing, that the wrong one won. Let's face it: in a romance novel we wanted heroes to be sexually addicted - to the heroine -- and if it's over the top, that's not unexpected.
Anyhow, my goal is not to be too hard on the author, who undoubtedly put her heart and talents into this, but at several points in the novel threads I found interesting were not pursued. The heroine liked when he flirted with her prior to marriage, claimed to miss those days, but seemed to resent any effort to lighten the mood. She seemed to neither like nor respect the hero, even though we're told she does. Her only goal seemed to be to punish and change him, and he went along with it willingly and that didn't feel good.
Justine said it was very important to her that they learn to talk and communicate. Good. Except she didn't actually seem that open to it. A lot of the time was spent with a b-plot concerning the hero's brother and his mistress and, until the a-plot is pleasing, other storylines seem an intrusion. That being said, the character of Matilda really grew on me and in some ways was more interesting and vivid than Justine.
What is admirable is that one of the themes of the book is that being gay is as natural as being straight. I appreciated those moments when a couple different characters were allowed to speak their hearts on the issue. These were the moments which were real, true, and moving, and stood in sharp contrast to the relationship between Justine and Radcliff. For me, this showed a glimpse of the author's genuine talent.
Now, for someone who prefers a sugary romance where relations are behind closed doors, this would still seem scandalous. I'm not in any way saying this becomes Christian fiction, just that the expectation of steaminess and actual steaminess don't match and that the heat often is treated as a bad thing in the book. I wanted a book in which the heroine matches the hero's libido, but demands from him fidelity and honesty, and that this would lead to both sexy and moving scenes. Instead wondered why these people were together. It seems to me that the book as if would be too shocking for one faction of romance readers and too tame for another faction.
The thing is that I can love all different kinds of heat levels, but there were just too many mixed signals and the balance seemed off, not just sexually but emotionally and thematically.
They did sort out most of their issues and the heat was at last there, but scenes that are welcome at 20% (Kindle) seem long overdue at 80%. A character refers to them shortly after as being happy and it confused me for a moment, because I wasn't feeling that. Still, I genuinely liked most of the last 23%
There were moments of genuine wit and charm and I wouldn't have been nearly as disappointed if that wasn't the case, if there weren't moments I adored. Every time I try to convince myself to at least bump this up to 3 stars it doesn't feel right or honest. Just too much standing in the way -- the marketing which felt (unintentionally) misleading, the thwarted expectations, the moments of possibility feeling like they reached a dead end, the feeling that the couple was mismatched until close to the end... I'd love to try this author again some day after carefully checking out other reviews to make sure it really is my cup of tea.