Pandora's Box


Karen Robards
2001, European Historical Romance (Regency England)
Pocket, $7.99, 360 pages, Amazon ASIN 0743410599
Part of a series

Grade: N/A
Sensuality: N/A

There is a staff review of this book as well

As Scandalous opens, Lady Gabriella Banning discovers that her half-brother has been murdered in Ceylon. To save her sisters from poverty she decides to keep his death to herself and go to London on her own. She hopes to get the oldest, Claire, married off before anyone finds out Marcus is dead. The family arrives in London to discover that a man who claims to be Marcus is living in the townhouse and he greets them as his sisters.

Thus begins a tangled tale of mistrust, murder and secrets as Gabby and "Marcus" try to untangle the web and fight their growing attraction to each other. For brother and sister to be in love would cause a scandal among the ton and bring down their whole house of cards.

Linda:      Blythe, Scandalous is one of those books that is sometimes hard to review. It came very close to being a good read and left me shaking my head trying to put my finger on why it missed.

Blythe:     Well, no sense in mincing words - it didn't even come close to being a good read for me. I found it very difficult to get through, and I didn't find it interesting until the very end, when it improved slightly. I found it dull, and I didn't like any of the characters.

Linda:      LOL, I did like the characters but felt they were wasted. Since we know from page one that Marcus is dead and it is also clear that "Marcus" is a good guy, I found myself longing for a touch of the Amanda Quick of old. <grin> AQ in her prime would have taken this couple and had them confide and trust each other and then work together as a team. I liked Gabby a lot, and she is my kind of gal: bold, funny and loyal to her family to a fault. I really wanted this pair to level with each other. I had the same problem with this book as I did with Julia Quinn's How to Marry a Marquis.

Blythe:     Maybe if they had worked together it would have been different. I really don't care for books where the hero and heroine spend much of the time simply hating each other, and that's how this one came across. But my first problem was that I found this book dull, dull, dull. It takes forever for anything at all to happen, and the story moves at a snail's pace until the last quarter or so. Robards describes everything in way too much detail for me, and people have lame, unnecessary conversations. I kept thinking some other author could tell the same story and take much less time doing it.

Linda:      You've put your finger on a big part of the problem for me. The first part introduced characters I liked and set up an interesting premise that could have been lots of fun. I could understand "Marcus" mistrusting Gabby at first, but it didn't take long for him to realize why she had kept her brother's death from everyone. The middle of the book just bogged down. Gabby and "Marcus" argued, kissed - and then did it all again. I found myself skimming, waiting for something to happen.

Although the villain is certainly slimy enough, his appearances were so few that there was no real sense of menace throughout the book. There should have been more attempts on "Marcus's" life, and since it was obvious the bad guy liked young girls, I thought it was Beth that he would have been after. I kept waiting for him to take Beth and for "Marcus" and Gabby to work together to get her back. I thought the ending rushed and hokey. If anyone bought "Marcus's" death, I have a bridge in Brooklyn to sell them.

Blythe:     Playing up the villain a bit would have made this book much more interesting. He appears late in the story, and disappears for so long that it's easy to forget his existence. I too found the ending rushed, and kind of silly. The bigger problem for me was when I found out "Marcus" "died," I didn't really care. I found myself wondering idly if maybe Gabby would marry that other guy now. When I don't particularly care who the heroine ends up with, I know the book didn't work for me! Actually, the only thing that really kept me turning the pages was morbid curiosity. Gabby and "Marcus" are supposed to be brother and sister, and even though we know they aren't, they give off a creepy incest vibe. I wondered how they were going to get around that when they were officially in love and wanting to marry. That's when the whole hokey death thing comes in.

Linda:      Even worse, they talk about buying a house and re-entering society - don't they think anyone is going to recognize him?? It was just goofy. Also, at the end we discover what Marcus was looking for that got him killed, but there hadn't been a clue about it till that point - too much deus ex machina for me. But, unlike you I did like the characters - that was what frustrated me. With a few different plot choices I might have liked this book a lot.

I didn't pick up any "incest" vibes, not like some of the older Diana Palmer's with the loosely related couples. Also, I felt like the dialogue was weird - they spoke ala Quick or Garwood (quite contemporary) but then she would throw in a long Regency word like "roundaboutation." It was kind of like "oh yeah, I am writing an historical, I'd better use some old fashioned words." I think a book that just misses makes me madder then one that is really bad - this one had lots of stuff I liked, but was just an overall disappointment.

Blythe:     LOL, I noticed that too - and every time I saw something like that I would think, "Oh yeah, I'm reading a regency-set historical." I think I could have liked Gabby and "Marcus" if they had worked together, instead of being at odds all the time, but the rest of the cast really got on my nerves. Several of them seemed straight out of romance novel central casting. We had the beautiful younger sister setting the ton on fire (can someone, please, have an ugly younger sister for once?), the exuberant fifteen-year-old sister who acted more like an eight-year-old (and I have an eight-year-old, so I'd know), and worst of all, the servants! I kept trying to place Jem's oddly written dialect, and I finally decided he reminded me of Mammy from Gone with the Wind! Was his accent supposed to be cockney? If so, it was a dismal failure.

Linda:      Mammy? I guess that's better then Butterfly McQueen <grin> - and yes, Jem seemed kind of odd man out in the dialect department. I liked Claire, the beautiful sister, and I thought her defense and protectiveness toward Gabby was wonderful, it gave her more depth then just a pretty face. Beth at 15 would have been almost of marriageable age, so her immaturity stuck out even more. But I kept waiting for Beth's exuberance to get her kidnapped or something. I think so much more could have been done with Gabby's childhood experience and certainly the bad guy could have been much more menacing, it would have made for a much better story, especially if it got Marcus and Gabby working together. Too bad, because I've liked other books by Robards a lot. Walking After Midnight is one of my favorite reads; the wit, and the good suspenseful/exciting plot that characterize WAM are missing from Scandalous.

Blythe:     I think Gabby's childhood experience should have been more integrated into the plot and her character. As it was, it had a "tacked on" feel. Hearing about it (and we really don't hear about it until late in the book) made me feel more sympathy for her. Up until that point, I just felt very impatient with her. Marcus may be a little rakish, but he does try to extend the olive branch a time or two. Gabby, OTOH, was always getting on her high horse and accusing Marcus of lying - conveniently forgetting that she was lying too.

I haven't read any other books by Robards, and after this one I don't find myself particularly eager to do so, but WAM is the one I consistently hear mentioned as the best.

Linda:      WAM is almost a parody of a Robert Ludlum book with wonderful escapes from impossible situations, and a hero who is known as Frankenstein for most of the book - you'd love it!

I also felt that Gabby's accident and childhood experience could have been much better integrated and used to forward the plot. It would have made so much more sense for her to be protecting Beth; oh well, many ingredients were here for a great read and instead it just fell flat. A real shame as I think Marcus and Gabby could have been a wonderful couple with just a few different choices by the author.

Blythe:     Well, I've heard some not-so-good things about early Robards (I won't forget Anne and Ellen's reviews of Sea Fire (written in 1982 and reissued in 1998) in a hurry) or her more recent The Senator's Wife and Paradise County. Was there a middle period in there when her books were supposed to be "better?"

Linda:      I liked this one better then her last historical, Nobody's Angel. But, that is probably because I like the Regency setting much better then Americana, even though they did go to England where the indentured servant of course, turned out to be a British Lord . This one had potential that just fell short for me.

Blythe:     I think I liked it less than you did, but strangely enough talking about it with you has made me see that it really could have been a better read with some work. Too bad we weren't consulted before it was published. <grin>

Linda:     What are we reading next month?

Blythe:     Next month is Jeanette Baker's Spellbound. I loved her RITA-winning Nell, so I'm looking forward to this one.

Linda:      Hey maybe we missed our calling as "pre-reviewers" or "story-doctors." This book left me with the same feeling as Lost and Found by JAK - an old favorite who disappoints somehow always feels worse.

I haven't read Baker before so hopefully she will be a find for me as has been the case with Ashworth, Kantra, and Hunter.

--Blythe Barnhill and Linda Hurst, with assistance from Sandi Morris, for

-- Pandora's Box

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