It’s a story about a beautiful spinster who’s always the cleverest person in the room. It’s a story about the biggest scoundrel in the peerage who falls in love with her. It’s a story about two forces of nature who, after ruining and shooting each other, decide to team up through holiest matrimony. What could possibly get in their way?
Welcome to our discussion feature! We’ve realized that sometimes a review isn’t enough. More and more, we want to share our thoughts using actual examples from the story. It is, of course, rude to give away too much in book reviews, although it is a delicate line to walk. You don’t want a review to have no examples, but you can’t push it too far. There are always spoiler tags, of course… but we’ve wanted to write full-on essays about certain books, and tags aren’t good enough anymore. We need to write more down!
This time around, I, Ellen, want to discuss a book that utterly shocked me. It shocked me because it was so good, as opposed to bad. Yes, this post is a discussion of Lord of Scoundrels by Loretta Chase.
C O N T A I N S S P O I L E R S !!!
A Summary of Lord of Scoundrels by Loretta Chase
Lord of Scoundrels begins with a prologue detailing the early life of Sebastien, or “Dain,” the male protagonist of the novel. Sebastien’s mother was Italian nobility, and the second wife of an English peer. The marriage is a disaster, as the Italian Marchioness is high-strung, emotional, and volcanically carnal while her husband is cold, staid, and prudish.
After producing one son, their marriage eventually deteriorates to the point where the Marchioness runs off with another man. Furious with his wife’s scandalous action, the old Marquess tells a young Sebastien that his mother was “Jezebel,” and she’d be eaten by dogs on her way to hell.
To rid himself of Sebastien’s stormy outbursts, the old Marquess sends his son to Eton. Violently bullied by his classmates due to his appearance — dark and gangly, with a huge, beaky nose — Sebastien grows deep-seated insecurities about his body and features. When he is delivered the news of his mother’s death, Sebastien pummels one of his bullies to pulp, earning himself a place in the cadre of boys who had abused him.
On his thirteenth birthday, Sebastien’s friends take him to a prostitute, who expresses disgust with Sebastien, but nonetheless has sex with him in exchange for money. Because of this, Sebastien takes up an interest in earning coin, starting with intelligent gambling and bets. When his father spitefully informs an older Sebastien that he will be attending Cambridge, not the family’s ancestral college at Oxford, Sebastien pays to attend Oxford with his own funds, to spite the old Marquess in return.
During and after Oxford, Sebastien enters the world of commerce and makes smart and successful investments. When his father dies, he is able to bring his inherited estate back from the brink of ruin. Leaving competent people in charge of his entail, Sebastien, now a Marquess known as “Dain,” departs for Paris.
In Paris, Jessica Trent, a 27 year-old lady, arrives in the city to rescue her brother from squandering all of his money. Jessica is a viciously intelligent and an impeccably stylish woman. She supports her expensive tastes by purchasing rare antiques and selling them for profit.
Jessica meets Dain in an antique shop, where she buys a miniature painting that Dain had overlooked. Sparks fly between Jessica and Dain, but Dain erupts in flames after the miniature is appraised and found to be a priceless Russian icon. Dain, now obsessed with both the icon and Jessica, offers to buy the piece from her. Jessica refuses, but tells Dain that she’ll give him the icon if Dain releases her brother from his profligate influence.
Dain refuses, but exerts his control over Jessica’s brother all the more. In the meantime, the war between Jessica and Dain escalates, finding a climax at a society ball, where Dain pulls Jessica aside and kisses her passionately. A group of people walk in on them, however, and Jessica’s reputation is doomed. Jessica demands that Dain act with honor in order to restore her own. Dain only replies, “Then shoot me,” before walking away.
The next day, Jessica walks up to Dain in public and fires a pistol into his left shoulder, just missing his heart. She then turns herself into the Paris police and hires a lawyer who brings a defamation suit against Dain. Dain is unharmed, except for his left arm, which hangs limp and useless. Instead of being irate with Jessica over his injury and the lawsuit, Dain extends an offer of marriage. Jessica, suspecting that he harbors a sincere desire to marry her, accepts him.
In England, Dain only visits Jessica after many weeks have passed. He gruffly gives her an engagement ring set with a ruby the color of blood, to Jessica’s delight. Although he does not behave like a man in love, Jessica intuits that Dain does have soft feelings towards her. However, she is anxious about her sexual inexperience, when she knows Dain to be an infamous whoremonger.
Despite Jessica’s trepidation, Dain does not consummate their marriage on their wedding night. Instead, he becomes incapacitated with drink at the inn where they’re staying. When they reach Dain’s ancestral home on the English moors, he still does not have sex with her. Because he’s neither slept with a woman without paying her, nor with a virgin, he is nervous. Although Dain brings Jessica to climax in his library, after she read aloud from Byron’s Don Juan, he leaves her “intact.”
Some days pass without consummation, and to escape his bride, Dain accepts a friend’s invitation to go away to a wrestling match. At the end of her rope, Jessica dons a negligee and incites a furious quarrel with her husband. Provoked, both sexually and emotionally, Dain finally makes love to his wife. To his relief, she enjoys herself. Dain decides to stay with Jessica in the days leading up to the wrestling match, then take her with him to go see the fight.
On the night of the wrestling match, Dain, now having debauched Jessica many times, leaves with her in the middle of the fight to have passionate sex in a darkened graveyard. During the act, Jessica tells Dain that she loves him, which heals Dain’s damaged psyche, though he pretends to be unmoved.
On their way back to their carriage, Dain is alarmed to find the prostitute he’d impregnated years ago making a scene with his eight year-old bastard son. Although he tries to hide the confrontation from Jessica, she sees it all. The bastard, a raggedy and foul-mouthed boy named Dominick, runs off.
To Dain’s shock, on the carriage ride home, Jessica berates him for not going after his son and claiming him, after seeing his state. Jessica tells Dain that she had helped raise ten of her male relations, and that above all things she understands little boys. Dominick, she insists, needs immediate help before he is psychologically scarred by neglect. However, Dain cannot look upon or think of his bastard without experiencing intense revulsion. Thunderously, he tells Jessica to drop the matter.
Instead of dropping the matter, Jessica finds out as much as she can about Dominick and his mother, Charity. Aided by Dain’s footman, Jessica discovers that Dominick and Charity are staying in the village inside Dain’s estate. Dain gives Charity fifty pounds per year to take care of Dominick, but Charity uses the money for herself and leaves Dominick to wear rags and run feral. Recently, Charity had tried to put Dominick into school, but Dominick’s demonic behavior made an education impossible. Jessica is further dismayed to hear that the schoolchildren informed Dominick that his mother was a whore, that Dominick was a whoreson, and that his noble father didn’t want him. Since then, Dominick has been living homeless, apart from his mother, sleeping in one of Dain’s outbuildings on the moor.
Meanwhile, matters are strained between Dain and Jessica. After the debacle at the wrestling match, Jessica, irate at Dain’s callous behavior towards his son, punishes Dain by being perfectly obedient, placid, and pleasant. However, she no longer tells Dain that she loves him. Though he tries to out-will, out-maneuver, and out-last his wife, Dain is being driven out of his mind longing for Jessica’s genuine personality and for her open love.
Matters reach a breaking point when Jessica decides that Dominick must be taken into Dain’s home without delay. She tracks down Dominick on the moors, where he is being pursued by his mother. Finally, the two women have their confrontation.
Charity agrees to hand Dominick over to Dain without a fight, but only if Jessica gives Charity the priceless Russian icon — the art piece that had first brought Jessica and Dain together in Paris. The story of the icon has become infamous, especially how Jessica gave Dain the icon freely as a birthday present after their marriage. What no one knows, however, is that Dain has a profound connection with the icon, which depicts the Madonna and Child, because it reminds him of his own lost, dead mother and the complicated feelings he has for her.
But unbeknownst to Jessica, Charity has taken up with a former friend of Dain’s, Vawtry, who has spiraled into debt and is trying to use Charity and Dominic to get money out of Dain. Vawtry had heard of the icon, its immense worth, and hopes to get the money for himself.
At this point, Jessica decides that she must come clean to Dain about everything. She explains to Dain that he is able to take Dominick from Charity, because mothers have no legal right to their own children. Jessica tells Dain that he must claim his son and take him in, or Jessica will give the icon to Charity and take care of Dominick herself. Jessica breaks her siege of fake behavior, and tells Dain, from her heart, that the mental wounds keeping Dain from loving his son could take years to heal, but that Dominick can’t wait for those years. The boy needs saving without delay.
Dain, fearing the fallout should he not cooperate, agrees that he’ll take Dominick from Charity. He tells Jessica he’ll go to the stagecoach stop immediately, because he knows Charity will not be acting in line with her agreement with Jessica. Dain is convinced that Charity will be leaving with her cash cow, Dominick, on the next carriage out of town.
Indeed, Dain is correct. Charity and Vawtry plan to remove to London, where they’ll have more safety from and leverage against Dain. They also have a contingency plan. If Jessica doesn’t bring the icon, or Dain arrives to take Dominick, Vawtry will set one of Dain’s outbuildings on fire to distract the estate while he goes into Dain’s bedchamber to steal the icon.
To transport Dominick to London, Charity has dosed her son with laudanum. However, the drug has made Dominick very ill. When Dain arrives at the inn where the stagecoaches stop, Charity and Vawtry scatter and accidentally leave Dominick behind.
Dain understands that Dominick is sick from laudanum, because he has an intolerance to the drug, himself. With the footman, Joseph’s help, Dain takes care of his vomiting son at the inn, giving him broth and tea, bathing him, and dressing him in the clean clothes that Jessica had put in a care parcel. Miraculously, Dain’s left arm, which had been useless since Jessica shot him in Paris, begins to work again.
Dain tells Dominick that his Mama has left, but that he is ‘Papa.’ He wants Dominick to stay with him, and so does Jessica, his wife. Dain explains to Dominick that Jessica is kind and amazingly understanding, but tolerates no nonsense.
Meanwhile, Vawtry has distracted Dain’s house by setting an outbuilding on fire. He sneaks in and takes the icon, but he runs into Jessica on his way out of the house. Vawtry and Jessica have a tremendous struggle, but Jessica gets the upper hand, slamming Vawtry’s head repeatedly into the door where Vawtry had tried to exit. Dain, who has just arrived with Dominick, stops Jessica’s assault.
Privately, Dain tells Vawtry that he’ll pay off his debts, but only if Vawtry marries Charity and keeps her away from himself, Jessica, and Dominick forever.
With Dominick tucked safely away in bed, Jessica tells her husband that she’s proud of him and that she loves him. After making love with her, Dain discovers that he’s finally able to admit that he loves her, too.
Neither of the Main Characters Were What I Expected
Before I read Lord of Scoundrels, I had some expectations about what the characters would be like. I knew Jessica arrives to ask Dain to save her brother from ruin — and I expected her to be brave, yet trembling with fear, like a sacrificial virgin. But as soon as I heard Jessica’s first line of dialogue in the audiobook, I was delighted and shocked to find a heroine I’d never yet encountered in a historical romance.
Jessica is a spinster at 27, but instead of being a dusty old maid with deep longings for love, Jessica is… not that. She turns down proposals left and right, because she’s smarter than most and doesn’t suffer fools. She’s fiercely independent and is in charge of herself. She has penetrative insights and appraisals about people and even objects. She feels deep family loyalty, and has acted on it her entire life. Without any doubt, Jessica Trent is the most fascinating heroine in a historical romance I’ve ever encountered.
Dain was more expected, except for a few things that Loretta Chase did very differently. For one thing, she gave Dain a whole host of insecurities about his body and appearance. It’s always the women characters who feel that they’re lacking in this respect, never the males. I can’t even tell you how fucking refreshing it was to see a romantic hero have body issues and not the heroine.
Another thing, quite a few “rakes” and “bad boy” characters have sad pasts in books. Dain is no different, but Loretta Chase used an omniscient narrator to explore his damaged psyche. She really digs her nails into his mental state, telling the reader when Dain is deflecting or repressing, or using other such coping mechanisms. That was unusual.
Can We and Should We Try to Change the People We Love?
Imagine a man is a house — a Cape Cod house. He’s a little battered, so his woman decides to do some home improvement. Ultimately, she hopes to replace the HVAC, get an open floor-plan… and turn him into stunning Dutch Colonial!
That’s the exact thing people scold women against doing. People shouldn’t go into a relationship hoping to change their partner drastically. It’s a gamble for one thing — the improvements may never come to pass. If you get involved with a bad person hoping to turn them good, that could be dangerous. Transitioning a person from one state of being to another is the job of a trained therapist. Not you. And in the case of wanting to change an Average Joe into your Dream Man… No. It’s absurd to want to change a person into someone they’re just not.
So, is Jessica an idiot for marrying Dain? Well, it depends on if she went into the marriage hoping to change him. Let’s look at her reasoning.
Jessica is between a rock and a hard place when it comes to accepting Dain’s proposal. But as readers, we know Jess so well. We know that she’d never have married Dain had she not wanted to. Dain tries to block her in, but she’d bust out and do her own thing if she truly desired that. However, she wants to marry Dain. She does so, for these discernible reasons:
- She feels an extremely strong “animal” attraction towards him.
- She knows that Dain desires her, but suspects that he “maybe” feels even more.
- Her grandmother, Genevieve, who Jessica respects and admires, advises her to marry him.
- It’s a convenient way to secure her finances and those of her stupid brother.
She does take a gamble that he cares for her, but no text I can find indicates that Jessica went into her marriage hoping to change Dain. But fact is, after the wedding, she starts wanting to heal him. Her hopes begin, I think, as soon as she understands the cause behind Dain’s bad behavior — everything that happened with his parents.
Now, Lord of Scoundrels shows that it’s a work of fiction because Jessica is so incredibly capable at working her husband over. She is extremely insightful regarding his mental temperature and mental acrobatics. She knows when and how to push his boundaries, and she’s mentally strong enough to handle the blowback. Her fortitude is immense. She can multitask being Dain’s wife and being his brain-doctor.
A normal, real woman should never be expected to do that.
Can we, and should we, try to change the people we love when they’re in trouble?
In Lord of Scoundrels, Dain subjects Jessica to behavior that would be emotionally abusive to a more sensitive woman. Loretta Chase shows that Dain knows how far he can push Jess, and he does take care to not cross her boundaries. Even so, he acts a heel. To me, Jessica would have been justified in wiping her hands of Dain.
But, because she’s a heroine, Jessica is strong enough to take on Dain’s demons and keep herself sane and safe.
Is Lord of Scoundrels Less Romantic For Having a Bastard Son Included?
What’s ridiculous is all those historical romances where the hero is enormously experienced sexually and doesn’t have any bastards or STDs. Yes, they had sheep-gut condoms back in the day, but come on.
Genital warts make things less of a fairy-tale, for sure. So does syphilis. In light of that, what’s one bastard in the scheme of things? To Jessica, something very, very important.
If Jessica ever feels resentful towards Dain for fathering a bastard son, Loretta Chase doesn’t make us aware of it. Jessica’s first action is to do everything she can for the boy. She acts with impeccable moral integrity, and something better, too — genuine caring. She kisses Dominick when he’s filthy and infested with lice, she fusses over his care package, and arranges for his room to be close to hers and Dain’s instead of at the opposite end of the house. It’s so, so sweet.
Because of all that, Jessica becomes an even better heroine than how she started out. But how does Dain stand up in comparison?
At first, not good. As a reader, my opinion of Dain plummeted when he treats Dominick with revulsion and neglect. We understand that Dain’s mental scar tissue is to partly to blame, but he is still wrong to act the way he does.
I thought Dain’s transformation was not handled at the top of Loretta Chase’s talent. We needed more of a gradient from the state of his refusing to think about Dominick, to the state of him bathing and spoon-feeding his son. Either that, or we needed a better description of the change-of-heart.
Nonetheless, the moment where Dain’s heart cracks open and he accepts his son is moving. He’s firm, but tender, and knows instinctually how to behave as a ‘Papa.’ That is romantic.
You Shouldn’t Hesitate In Buying the Audiobook
I bought the audiobook for Lord of Scoundrels, and readers… it was incredible. It’s narrated and performed by Kate Reading, who does a sensational job with the material. I was astounded by her skill. Not only is her voice pleasant to listen to, but her nuances and tones made the writing come to life. There were several moments were I laughed out loud, entirely due to Reading’s performance. The writing is spectacular on its own, but Reading gave the book something extra through her vocal interpretation.
In particular, she gave the book the dignity it deserves. I mean, the covers for this book are so appallingly bad, and don’t do Jessica’s genius any credit. But Reading’s voice for Jessica is so perfect. Jessica sounds sly and cunning, but can also turn maternal. Reading’s entire performance is in that vein, too — she gives the story the credit it needs.
The Bottom Line
I love this book. I looove it. Not only is it a great romance, but it’s also a story about families — new ones — and how when the love is strong and unconditional, greatness is made. The indomitable heroine, Jessica Trent, is easily one of my favorite fictional characters of all time. I will read, and listen to, this book again and again.