Welcome back to Winsome or Loathsome, the column in which AAR staffers lobby for and against controversial heroines. Today’s heroine is the leading lady of Loretta Chase’s Lord of Scoundrels, Jessica Trent.
Jessica is cool under pressure – her grandmother calls her “magnificently objective” – and does things like calmly looking at a naughty watch and suggesting it as a gift for that same grandmother. She is aloof, unconventional, and nearly impossible to shock or offend. And of course, she both hits Dain and, in the most polarizing scene in the book, shoots him for refusing to offer marriage after compromising her.
AAR reviewers tended to agree that Jessica was over-the-top, or at least, to use the Spinal Tap phrase, turned up to 11. But does that work?
Jean: I’m pretty indifferent to Lord of Scoundrels. I don’t consider it the best (or worst) of Loretta Chase or Regencies, and the whole thing reads like a trope taken to extremes. You want feisty? I’ll have her shoot the guy. You want not innocent? See, she auctions sex toys!! You want a big nose? It’s even BIGGER than you think!!!! Etc. So I’ve no opinion on Jess Trent. She’s just…meh.
Lynn: I’d say I like her more than I dislike her. I read her as coming from the feisty school of historical heroines, but the way she’s written, I almost get the feeling that Chase was poking a little fun at the curl tossers.
Maggie: To me Jessica is a stock historical romance heroine. Feisty, liberated, independent. She goes to rescue her brother and I can’t tell you how often I have seen that in a novel. It just felt very average to me.
Mary: I LOVE Jessica Trent!!! I loved that she knew exactly who she was and did not take an crap from anyone. She is one of my favorite characters. I agree that Jessica can be seen as a stock character, but I think that the farcical elements to her character demand it. She is meant to be over the top in my opinion.
Caz: I’m in the camp that loves Lord of Scoundrels. I think perhaps some of the things that may seem clichéd about it today are because they have been so often imitated by others. I like that Jess is a woman who knows what she wants and is a well-adjusted character with no trauma in her past or terrible secrets – that allows Chase to focus on Dain and all HIS trauma and secrets!
I think that perhaps in any other book/context, Jessica might not be so appealing because she is opinionated and strong -willed. It works here, because Dain is larger-than-life; anyone less strong-willed and opinionated would quickly have been steamrollered into a doormat, but because Jess is just as stubborn as he is, their relationship is less unequal (as far as that can be said for a relationship between a man and woman at that time). I would agree on the uber-feisty, uber-independent etc. nature of Jess, but I think she has to be that way if she’s to have any hope of a) standing up to Dain or b) being the sort of heroine the reader is going to want to see paired with such an ultra-masculine hero. Dain would crush a wilting lily figuratively (and probably literally, considering how he was worrying about doing Jess an injury in bed!)
She’s a typical Chase heroine – but then I like Chase’s typical heroines. They’re “feisty” without being TSTL.
Dabney: I love Jessica Trent. She won my heart when, rather than being shocked when Dain–at their first meeting–showed her the bawdy working of the watch she was looking at, she admired its work and said she was thinking about buying it for her grandmother.
I love how she keeps trying to seduce Dain and refuses to ever let his sulky machismo intimidate her.
It’s sublime when, when Dain is trying to embarrass her by whispering Italian and unbuttoning her glove in public, she allows it and then, much to his chagrin, points out that it is his reputation he’s manage to trash simply by wooing a virtuous woman.
She’s level-headed, determined to win, and treats all she encounters as though they have value. Plus she’s wonderfully lusty.
Caz: The lustiness is one of the things I like about all Chase’s heroines, whether they’re sexually experienced or not. It’s important – to me, anyway – that the heroine is shown to be as much in the grip of the throes of attraction or lust as the heroes are, and Chase gets it right. I probably shouldn’t admit this, but I rather like that her strong -minded, intelligent, independent women forget their names when in the grip of it, even if only temporarily, and that they are able to at the very least admit to themselves that they are feeling things “below the waist”!
I love the bit after the kiss in the rain under the lamppost when Jessica admits to Genevieve that she wishes she HAD been ruined!
Dabney: That kiss in the rain is the scene in which I fell for Dain.
Caz: Yes! “And so I beat him and beat him until he kissed me. And then I kept on beating him until he did it properly.”
Mary: I think there is an element of farce to Lord of Scoundrels that requires over the top characters. One thing I love about Loretta Chase is her humor. I adored Bathsheba DeLucey in Lord Perfect and laughed most of the way through that book. She does humor very well.
Dabney: I agree. Count me as one who thinks Lord Perfect is comedy genius. I also think Lord of Scoundrels is a send up of the very best kind.
Cindy: I wonder what my thoughts would be today as opposed to reading the book in the 90s. For me the heroine was such a refreshing change from doormat heroines who fell in love with their captors – God forbid they have an angry word to say to the hero. Wallbangers for me came from those books from late 80s and early 90s (when I started reading romance). It was nice to finally see a heroine stand up to a man and the gun scene had me thinking ‘about time’. I think today a scene like that would be more upsetting to me. In the last Kresley Cole book I found myself upset that the heroine took a sword and just about decapitated the hero (he is immortal but it was made quite clear that maybe a millimeter of skin staying attached kept him alive) – it was an accident blah, blah and hey, it’s a paranormal but the whole scene felt too close to what could happen in real life if someone felt threatened and then grabbed a knife from the kitchen and the next thing you know someone is dead and the whole thing should have never happened.
And the reason why I took the book to be more of a comedy because Dane’s selfish ways were so over the top and then there was the buggy scene with the horses.
Caroline: I had recused myself from this column, beyond collecting the responses, because I have never been able to get past that gun violence, even if it was supposed to be “funny” violence. But I had never thought of Lord of Scoundrels as a farce or a satire before. I’m still not sure it works for me, but maybe I’ll check it out of the library and give it a re-read and see what I think of it read through that lens.
Unlike with many of our previous columns, we were unable to get a clear Winsome/Loathsome vote on Jessica Trent, with a few picking each and a substantial write-in vote for “meh.” So we turn to you readers for the final choice!
What do you all think? Is Jessica Trent a caricature/amplification of historical heroines, or is she herself? Whichever she is, do you find her Winsome or Loathsome?