Review: Scandalous Passions by Nicola Davidson (2020)

Highland Menage, Book 1

Heat Factor: There is a great deal of “feasting” happening

Character Chemistry: I’m not sure I would have known that feelings were happening if I hadn’t been explicitly told

Plot: King’s former mistress is banished from the castle, ordered to be guardian of the king’s virgin ward, and protected by the king’s loyal knight

Overall: Kind of felt like a manual for having consensual sex

This story about a femme dom and her two lovers follows a certain, rather predictable trajectory. 

Janet is the king’s former mistress and very good friend. Lachlan is a landless knight and right hand to the king. Marjorie is the daughter of a traitor to the crown and the king’s ward. They are all sent away from the castle because the new Tudor queen doesn’t want any of the king’s mistresses living in her castle. 

Lachlan has been pining after Janet for years and years, but he doesn’t think very highly of himself (he thinks he’s ugly, and he has a stammer), so he’s always hung back. He’s also a little confused when he meets Marjorie, because he thinks she’s tempting, too, but she’s the king’s ward and off limits, so he’s just going to tuck that in his back pocket and not think about it. Because Lachlan and Janet are now thrust together at her new home, she thinks he might be a delicious lay, and they agree to engage in a sexual relationship. Meanwhile, Marjorie is sheltered and confused by the weird feelings she keeps having for both Janet and Lachlan. Janet realizes she’s also attracted to Marjorie (her first attraction to a woman since her first lover!), and she decides to give Marjorie sex lessons so that Marjorie can have good sex when she’s sent away to be married to someone else.

There are few surprises in the road for the development of this throuple. It goes a little something like this:

  1. What is going on with these confusing feelings? For two people?
  2. Salacious introduction to masturbation for Marjorie by Janet
  3. Janet and Lachlan have sex
  4. Janet begins another lesson with Marjorie and is interrupted by Lachlan
  5. Everybody has sex together
  6. Now everybody only wants to have sex together

As a reader, I felt extremely detached from this story for almost the whole read. I did get anxious when we hit the climax because the situation was so unfair to the protagonists, but I wasn’t particularly invested in the characters or the relationship. In part, this was due to the prose. While it is a historically accurate term, I’m not a fan of the word “cunt” (or any of the other euphemisms for female genitals, if I’m being honest). Every time I read it, I had a negative, visceral reaction to it, and it was used often. Also, every time someone went down on someone else, he or she was ordered to “feast,” which was really not my jam. Maybe once. Not every time. 

The rest of the time, there was a great deal of telling and not showing. I was aware of the fact that these characters had feelings for each other or were sexually satisfied because I was informed of this. I did not conclude it based on the information provided to me by actions occurring in the narrative. Even the sex was somehow detached. Menage romances trend toward the erotic romance end of the spectrum, so I was expecting a good bit of pretty explicit sex. And they do have several sexual encounters, so it’s definitely not some one-and-done Regency-type novel. But none of the encounters is especially long, and there are little emotional or educational breaks within them, so I wouldn’t put this at a super sexy end of the spectrum. 

Further, Janet, as the dominant member of the throuple, spent a lot of time explaining the importance of consent, plain speaking, and listening to one’s partner(s). It made sense because Marjorie is totally clueless, but it felt incredibly preachy. It brought home to me how other authors use dirty talk as a form of demonstrating ongoing consent, because the parties are both constantly and actively engaged. We get the clear consent without necessarily getting a lot of discussion about consent. Could that happen with a sheltered virgin? Maybe not, but I personally did not care for the “let me educate you” thing that Janet had going.

My last note will probably make it seem like I just really don’t like Janet, but that’s not the case. Each of the protagonists had his or her own personality and baggage, and I could enjoy them as they were. What did have me frowning from time to time was the power dynamic that Janet employs as the dominant in the relationship. 

For starters, she demands honestly and plain speaking, but when it comes to her own feelings and concerns, she doesn’t apply the same rules to herself. When she and Lachlan engage in their sexual relationship, she declares that she doesn’t share, she wants an exclusive relationship with him, but then she sees no issue with engaging in sex with Marjorie. When she’s struggling emotionally, she tells her partners to drop it or she’ll banish them from her household. Respecting boundaries is important, but using one’s power to shut down a partner is icky. Making a partner feel like they need to be worthy is icky. My favorite dominant/submissive stories tend to discuss how the submissive parties feel equal to their partners and feel like they also have power in the relationship, and I did not get that at all in this book. And when everything wrapped up and they were living happily ever after, Janet still had all of the property, money and power, so I didn’t have warm fuzzies about Marjorie and Lachlan being in such a vulnerable dependent position. 

There is definitely an audience for this book, but it isn’t me. 

I voluntarily read and reviewed a complimentary copy of this book. All thoughts and opinions are my own. We disclose this in accordance with 16 CFR §255.

Buy Now: Amazon

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