AAR Book Club, September 2009:
Lord of Scoundrels by Loretta Chase
Welcome to the second edition of AARís new Book Club. Readers picked the selection this time out and, not too surprisingly, the choice they settled on is Lord of Scoundrels, a perennial AAR favorite. Our discussion leaders this time are reviewers Lea Hensley and Heather Brooks. We hope youíll enjoy Heather and Leaís take on the book, read the book yourselves, and then join us on Sunday, September 27th at 4 p.m. eastern time for a live discussion with AAR staffers and readers.
Lord of Scoundrels
1995, European Historical Romance (1820s)
Avon, $6.99, 384 pages, Amazon ASIN 0380776162
Grades: Heather A, Lea A
Heather and Lea's Take
A book with immense staying power, Lord of Scoundrels is a long time favorite of AARís readers. In 2000, it firmly grabbed the number one place in AARís Top 100 Romances Poll and hasnít let go since. Last month, readers reaffirmed their love for this book when, by a significant margin, they chose Lord of Scoundrels as their selection for this monthís AAR Book Club.
Sebastian Ballister, the notorious Marquess of Dain, is big, bad, and dangerous to know. No respectable woman would have anything to do with the ďBane and Blight of the BallistersĒ - and he wants nothing to do with respectable women. Heís determined to continue doing what he does best - sin and sin again - and all thatís going swimmingly, thank you...until the day a shop door opens and she walks in.
Jessica Trent is a determined young woman, and sheís going to drag her imbecile brother off the road to ruin, no matter what it takes. If saving him - and with him, her family and future - means taking on the devil himself, she wonít back down. The trouble is, the devil in question is so shockingly irresistible, and the person who needs the most saving is - herself!
Lea: Upfront I must admit that each time I have participated in AARís Top 100 Romances Poll, Lord of Scoundrels has been my number one choice and an easy choice at that. Heather, I see that you agree with my A grade but what was your overall impression?
Heather: Oh, this is one of my favorites. Books like this are the reason I read romance. Itís one of those few books that I can read over and over and always find a reason to pick it back up again. The tortured hero is my favorite and Dainís truly tortured and thereís nothing better than a smart, sensible heroine, which Jessica is. If I ever recommend romance to someone not familiar with the genre, this is the one I recommend. It brings out the tears and the laughter and is truly well written.
Lea: Although itís been six years since I first read Lord of Scoundrels, my first thought when I hear it mentioned is still ďWow!Ē After finishing my third read of this eternal favorite last week, I was once again amazed at its originality and it remains one of brightest, funniest, and wittiest books I have had the pleasure of reading. Dain and Jessica make such a vibrant couple who, as exact opposites, so completely compliment the other although hard-headed Dain takes his time in reaching that conclusion. And Dainís slow but believable evolvement is the main subject matter here as Chase takes an ever-so-typical tormented hero and makes the experience entirely atypical.
Heather: Lea, I understand exactly what you mean about Dain and Jessica being such a vibrant couple and I think so much of that goes back to the fact that Chase excels in character driven romances. One of my favorite aspects of Lord of Scoundrels was how Chase lays out the backgrounds for her characters up front so that you know exactly where theyíre coming from and what their motivations are. For example, Dain is bad, but we know why Dain is bad from the very beginning and therefore he is a much more sympathetic character as a result. When you see Dain do the awful things he does to Jessica, the reader knows he only does so because heís scared to care and then be abandoned. Whereas with Jessica, sheís had to take care of Bertie and all the young males of the family for what seems like her entire life. Hence, sheís a managing (okay, insert manipulative) female, and manages Dain quite effectively, which he needs. What are your thoughts on Chase laying out the backgrounds of the characters right at the beginning of the book?
Lea: See, Iíve heard complaints from some readers about those first 15 pages that are totally dedicated to Dainís background (and I must admit that itís not how I preferred to start either) but I absolutely agree this prologue is essential to understanding Dainís motives and gives readers permission to enjoy some of his reprobate behavior. Jessica needs little background other than her history as the sensible one who is also a ďfixerĒ. Ms. Chase takes one rude and arrogant man and matches him with a confident realist of a woman, (who just happens to find him very sexy) and has me rooting for their success, while understanding their weaknesses, by page 25. Being acclimated to the story so quickly made the enjoyment all that much greater.
Talking about Dainís background naturally leads to the most interesting aspect of the book for me Ė Dainís character. Not only is it important to Dain that he live a dissolute, haughty, and brutish lifestyle but he wants everyone to know he does. I thought the constant monologue in Dainís head to be one of the most delightful aspects of the book. Even as heís showing the world just how thoroughly thoughtless and selfish he is, heís fighting his thoughts and feelings where Jessica is concerned and, in the process, showing the reader heís not so heartless after allÖwell, not all of the time. I guess I would call him a work in progress and saw his struggle to remain debauched quite amusing. How did you view Dainís character? Did you see him as much more than the typical bad boy tortured hero?
Heather: Iím going to gush here, but I canít help it. Dain is the ultimate in tortured heroes and my favorite. He has a reason to be a tortured hero, not some completely transparent excuse to create tension between the hero and heroine. Itís not that he blames all females for his feelings irrationally Ė for him itís a learned behavior from years of neglect and rejection. Heís emotionally paralyzed and when Jessica gives an inkling of response to him, he wants it so bad, but canít accept that it could possibly be real. His fear tortures him. On a lighter note, I love how Dain constantly finds himself editing the term female in his mental dictionary. After all these years, I look forward to reading those mental edits.
Lea: Visualization of a character is an important aspect of reading for me personally and although Dain is described repeatedly as ugly with a gigantic nose, I could never picture him as such. Could that be due to the fact that he is such a ďmanís manĒ who conducts his life with such complete confidence (at least to the outside world) or is it that I pictured Dain through Jessicaís eyes? How did you see Dain in your head (or do you have a need to visualize)?
Heather: I donít think that Dain can see himself rationally. He was rejected by his mother and his father for reasons he didnít understand and then went to school where the boys made fun of his looks because he was different. The rejection made him feel wrong internally and externally. Though some may call him ďbig beakĒ even as adults, in my opinion they still respected him and wanted to be within his circle of acquaintances. Hence I agree with ďmanís manĒ idea. I donít think anyone saw him as he pictured himself. The women shied away from him, but I think that was due more to the reputation that he made for himself as an adult rather than his appearance. Also, Jessica picks up on his allure instantly and after their initial meeting, I only see him through her eyes.
Lea: Playing against Dainís irrepressible bad boy is the levelheaded Jessica with a sparkling wit of her own. She refuses to back down to the meanest guy around nor will she allow Dain to intimidate her. As she is battling Dain for the control of her brotherís life, she is fighting a great deal of lust herself. One of my favorite passages is the one playing in Jessicaís head as she sits in a cafť with Dain locked in verbal warfare.
"Most of all she wanted to press her lips to his hard, dissolute mouth and kiss him senseless.
Of course, all such a demented assault would get her would be a position flat on her back and the swift elimination of her maidenhead Ė very possibly in full view of the cafťís patrons. Then, if he was in a good humor, he might give her a friendly slap on the bottom as he told her to run along, she reflected gloomily.Ē
Heather, what are some of your favorite recollections of Jessica?
Heather: Dainís emotions are so irrational that Jessicaís character has to be as rational as possible. Thereís nothing better than a smart heroine who wants to be debauched by the ultimate in bad boys. I like the fact that she doesnít deny her attraction and manipulates the situation to get what she wants for herself. I think my favorite scene with Jessica was the one right after she gets a glimpse of Dainís son, Dominick, and fusses at Dain for letting the boy get away. Her reaction gets right to the heart of her character.
Excuse me, I going to gush again. A large part of Lord of Scoundrelsís appeal to me is the verbal sparring between the characters. It sets the tone of the book from their very first encounter, plus I find Chaseís dialogue some of the most witty and intelligent written. When Jessica responds to Dainís comments about women while in Champtios shop with the line,
ďThat, Bertie, is a consequence of the feminine brain having reached a more advanced state of developmentÖĒ ďShe recognizes that the selection of a gift requires the balancing of profoundly complicated moral, psychological aesthetic, and sentimental equation. I should not recommend that a mere male attempt to involve himself in the delicate process of balancing it, especially by the primitive method of counting.Ē
Öyou see just how Jessica thinks that love should be given while cutting to the core of Dainís misconceptions regarding all the feminine gender and what they value. What do you think of the verbal sparring between Dain and Jessica?
Lea: It seems as though we must gush together on this one as I agree with you about the level of witty and intelligent sparring Ė itís among the very best in my mind, especially as a historical romance. Thereís nary a boring moment between these two (honestly Ė I canít think of one) as they both thrill to the challenge of antagonizing the other. Jessica holds a special talent for provoking Dain as she rants at him or stays cool in the midst of his attempts to provoke her. I especially love Dainís reactions when Jessica points out his emotional side.
In further contribution to the immense love fest I seem to be perpetuating here, I must add that events that lead to the turning point of Lord of Scoundrels left me with my mouth gaping in shock. I donít dare say too much for those who have not yet read Lord of Scoundrels, but it is the single most memorable incident in all my years of reading romance. Did you have the same sense of surprise?
Heather: As we know, their sparring goes well beyond the verbal at a particular point. When I first read it, I hadnít encountered anything like it in any book Iíd read prior and like you, I was shocked. I loved how the men in his circle scattered, except for Beaumont that is, and how Jessica could see the fear in Dainís eyes, which he completely deserved. It was planned and she took calculated risks. The high drama and unexpectedness of this scene is just one of the many reasons I love this book.
Lea: More often than not, once the leads marry, the plot heads downhill as well as the sense of energetic interaction that precedes the setup/lead-in to the marriage. What are your thoughts here since Jessica and Dainís marriage occurs before the mid-point of the book?
Heather: Youíre right, in many books marriage is the downhill slope. However, I donít think thatís the case here because Dain has so many issues to work out still Ė the paralysis, the fact that his wife is a virgin, his mother issues, and of course, his son. While the sexual tension thatís present at the beginning isnít as dominant, the plot is still as engaging as it was in the beginning in my opinion.
Lea: I too think the action doesnít lessen a bit as the adventures of Jessica and Dain continue in high gear once they marry. They persist in their challenges towards one another as they test the boundaries of their relationship. The introduction of Dominick, as well as Dainís feelings towards his mother, certainly added another level of emotion that I found effective for the most part. However, I can find reason for complaint here - all is fixed a bit too easily and quickly to be totally convincing.
Heather: To conclude our gush-fest, I want to add that Lord of Scoundrels, for me, is one of those books that sets the standard for romance. With sizzling sexual tension and incredible dialogue, itís a page-turner all the way through. The characters are believably multi-dimensional whose problems arenít solved magically. Itís one that stays with me and makes me laugh out loud as well as cry every time I read it. Lea, do you have any final thoughts on Lord of Scoundrels that youíd like to add?
Lea: Yes, I want to mention briefly the amount of change Dainís character undergoes over the course of the book. All too often we see a rough hero change his personality to deliver the HEA and I always feel shortchanged, if not a bit enraged, when that occurs. Dain stays true to his initial character but develops an appropriate tenderness towards Jessica and Dominick that enables him to view the rest of the world with less cynicism. I agree, Heather, with your page-turner reference and add that Chase doesnít rely on suspense to drive it to its conclusion. Although there is a slight suspense subplot towards the end, the story remains Jessica and Dainís. Character driven - thatís how I like them best.
Heather: We hope that youíll join us for the live discussion of Loretta Chaseís Lord of Scoundrels at AAR on Sunday, September 27th at 4:00 EST. If you havenít read it, pick it up and join the fun. I look forward to hearing othersí opinions (good and bad) regarding Jessica and Dainís story.
-- Heather Brooks and Lea Hensley