Lord of Scoundrels was one of two picks for our monthly read over at Unapologetic Romance Readers on Goodreads. As you can tell by the lovely cover, it's somewhat of an older one, originally published in 1995--aka, when the covers were still trending toward the 80s but when the stories and characters had begun to shift away from "creepy rapey guy ignores the heroine's repeated statements of 'no'" and into what we would recognize as a more "modern" historical romance.
The story here is pretty simple. The Marquess of Dain, Sebastian Ballister (known as Dain, of course) left England after being abominably treated by his father and abandoned by his mother, vowing to never set foot in his own country again. Instead, he lives a dissolute life in Paris, where he's known as the devil himself. Jessica Trent, the older sister of a the young Lord Trent, goes to Paris with her grandmother for a trip, ostensibly as a gift for said grandmother's birthday, but really to try to disentangle her younger brother from Dain's evil clutches, where he's been withering away and spending the family fortune. Jess herself is rather good at making money and wants to go into business for herself, but she's still not happy about her brother's dissolution under Dain's tutelage. She and Dain first encounter each other in an antiques shop similar to the one that Jess wants to open, where she purchases a rather naughty watch, scoops a rather valuable painting from under Dain's nose for a mere pittance, and immediately sets off a disagreement between the two of them that will fuel their chemistry and disagreements through the first half of the book.
This book is divided basically in two. The first half is devoted to the characters getting together, doing the usual banter and furious kissing and driving each other to the brink of insanity. The second half is when they're already together and are dealing with the new dimensions of married life as well as a part of Dain's past that comes back with a vengeance, and a sub-plot involving the painting from the first half that's a little half-baked and just thrown in for additional drama. The main drama in both halves is fueled by that great standard of historical romances: miscommunication. In this case, the characters talk to each other rather candidly but because of their respective backgrounds and how their relationship develops they're constantly misconstruing each other's words and underlying meanings and seeking revenge on each other, or believing that the other is seeking revenge on them. There's also an aspect to it that's just pure Dain being frustrating and refusing to acknowledge the affect that his past has had on him and how he sees the world and his relationships with those around him. These aspects of conflict actually work a lot better than the usual just plain "we don't talk to each other" miscommunication conflict of historical romances, because they're definitely more believable and work for a better sustained conflict.
The banter here is strong and there's definitely chemistry between the two characters. However, the second half of the book is significantly slower than the first half. While it has some high points--a great interaction between the main characters while attending a wrestling match comes immediately to mind--the pacing is definitely not as on-spot as in the first half. I do think the underlying plot in the second half is important; Chase did start setting it up in the first half, so it doesn't come out of nowhere, and I think it was important to Dain's development as a character and ultimately a functional human being. He and Jess had plenty of chemistry but he was so stubborn and unyielding that I can't believe life with him would have been anything but infuriating. And while people don't necessarily change, they do learn, and this whole plot was important to Dain learning and growing. But it doesn't feel entirely cohesive with the first part, despite the setup that Chase did so that it would connect. The differences in setting, pacing, and characters just lead to a disconnect even though the mains remain the same...and the way that the painting subplot unfolds is just plain hokey.
Still, this was quite enjoyable for me! I don't think I've read any Loretta Chase before, despite having a few different books of hers on my to-read list, and I think this was actually a very strong introduction to her. I haven't read the other books in this series for sure, but I didn't need to, and that's great as well. Overall, a great pick for our monthly read!
4 stars out of 5.