Olivia Drake’s new Regency romance, SCANDAL OF THE YEAR, is the third in the “Heiress in London” series and stars Blythe Crompton. Blythe is an heiress to a major fortune and is described as beautiful (aren’t all Regency heiresses?), spirited, and dutiful. Blythe is the youngest of three daughters, and has been brought up to believe that marrying a Duke should be her strongest and worthiest ambition.
However, all isn’t as it seems. Her parents are imposters, and a man named James Ryding is determined to unmask them. Ryding has been reared as a gentleman, but takes a position as one of the Crompton’s footmen in London in order to find the evidence he needs to unmask Blythe’s parents as the imposters they are so he can inherit everything as he’s the last legitimate heir to the Crompton fortune (so far as he knows).
So the elements of the plot were clear from the beginning. There’s a “mistaken identity” thing going on. There are many farcical elements, especially when Blythe asks James to pretend to be a foreign prince in order to divert the Duke of Savoy’s daughter, Davina (who hates Blythe due to her family’s lack of nobility), so Blythe can have a shot at marrying the Duke. And there are the balls, the musicales, the various flotsam and jetsam expected out of a Regency romance . . . all of that is there and described in vivid detail.
But what’s missing here is some life to the plot. Blythe was not really drawn well. She’s shrewd, and wants to be better educated than she is, and she knows deep down in her heart that there must be more to life than marrying a Duke (especially one who’s much older than her like the Duke of Savoy, and deeply in debt due to gambling). She wears fancy clothes, she’s used to the life of luxury, and it’s hard to empathize with her because while the heart of her life is a lie (her parents really are imposters, which we know from the start so that’s not a spoiler), the fact is, she’s a spoiled English heiress.
James Ryding, on the other hand, is drawn a little better. His motivations are more about finding out what happened to his cousins, the real George and Edith Crompton, than finding out what happened to his fortune. His father was a wastrel, and James knows what’s truly important: love, which can’t be bought. A marriage that’s sound and built on a good foundation. And taking care of people — doing the little things that count, like making sure Blythe’s toast isn’t cold when it’s delivered to her — is a major part of his make-up. So of course I believed what he was doing was the right thing even though he did deceive Blythe from the get-go and his plan amounted to a great deal of manipulation and strife.
Still, what James did was for the right reasons, and I could forgive that. The only question was, would Blythe forgive him, and if she did, what sort of life would they live? (If you’re expecting an unhappy ending out of a Regency, please don’t. But I will say Blythe did grow a little bit toward the end of the novel and I was happy to see it.)
SCANDAL OF THE YEAR, put simply, just wasn’t scandalous enough. This is a love match that doesn’t necessarily look like one, rather than a truly shocking event like what happens during Sherry Thomas’s excellent novel PRIVATE ARRANGEMENTS (set in the 1890s). (The SBR review for this is available here.) I expected more out of this plot than I got, and while it was a light, fluffy, breezy read — all good — it didn’t deliver on its initial promise.
Still, if you’re looking for something that’s easy to read and contains a great deal of vividly described imagery about balls, musicales, etc., you could do worse than SCANDAL OF THE YEAR. But you should check your library first to see if they have a copy rather than going out and buying this . . . otherwise, you’d be better off reading one of Rosemary Edghill’s Regencies if you can find them (check your local library as they’re all out of print — her best was TWO OF A KIND, though TURKISH DELIGHT and THE ILL-BRED BRIDE were also excellent), or Georgette Heyer’s (your library will have these), or a number of other authors. Because while SCANDAL OF THE YEAR isn’t a bad novel, it also isn’t great. Ms. Drake can and should do better than this.
— reviewed by Barb