This month, as part of talking about morality chain romances, we all read Lord of Scoundrels by Loretta Chase. It comes up frequently as a “canon” romance, but none of us had read it before. Spoiler alert: we all really liked it.
Scoundrels, Book #3
Let’s start by each giving our metrics for the book:
Heat Factor: Purple prose alert!
Character Chemistry: Sarcasm abounds. Also, she tells him that he’s sensitive and he’s baffled but she’s not wrong.
Plot: Jessica must rescue her brother from the clutches of the Marquess of Dain. He compromises her. She shoots him. They get married.
Overall: ZOMG. The plot gets a little saggy towards the end, but I still had a blast.
Heat Factor: Kissing in the RAIN! 💕 But yeah, standard histrom fare albeit on the steamy side
Character Chemistry: She’s competent AF and he’s a man baby, and they’re both super besotted, so it’s pretty excellent, in fact
Plot: antagonists → spouses → exasperated (Jessica)/emotionally constipated (Dain) → lovers
Overall: Bottom line, this is simply a very fun read
Heat Factor: Oh, my.
Character Chemistry: Had Dain been with any other woman, I would have hated it…but since he was with Jess…swoon.
Plot: Dain is fully committed to a life of debauchery when he meets Jessica, who is a spinster and really doesn’t have any time for his nonsense unless he’s got her pressed up against a wall. Once he ruins her and refuses to do the right thing, she shoots him, they negotiate, and they’re pretty much in a bout of emotional fencing until the book ends.
This book was written in the 1990s. Does it still stand up as a romance novel?
Holly: It’s very tropey in ways that felt a little bit cliché at times, but I had a blast reading it. There were definitely moments that surprised and delighted me.
Ingrid: I actually didn’t know it was from the 1990’s when I read it, and I immediately thought that it felt like a throwback. It definitely stands up, in my opinion.
Erin: TBH if I hadn’t known it was published in the 90s, I wouldn’t have guessed that it was, except for the 3rd person narration. And that the one queer character is a villain.
Jessica’s attitudes and the narrator’s awareness of Dain’s psychology makes it feel newer than a 90s story, which is probably why it’s aged so well.
What did you think of Chase’s use of a third person omniscient narrator?
Erin: I really like this style of narration, and I’m a little sad that it’s not used in current publications. First, I appreciate that the narration isn’t exclusively attached to Dain’s or Jessica’s POV (and that where the secondary narration occurs, it makes sense), which is extremely uncommon now, even in 3rd person omniscient, but it can be used so very effectively! Second, the fact that the narrator understands Dain and Jessica better than they do themselves makes the story engaging (ups the playful factor a bit), but it also allows the two (coughDain) to have their faults without necessarily excusing them.
Ingrid: It was SO MUCH FUN! It definitely helps the reader feel like they’re in the know and who doesn’t like that?
Holly: The first time it happened, I was surprised, and then I wondered why more romance novels didn’t use this technique, because it was so brilliant here.
Thoughts on Dain as a romance hero?
Holly: So Dain does that thing that I *hate* where he decides that his mother was a whore so all women are untrustworthy (whores). I have given up reading books for precisely this trope.
However, Chase makes it explicit that this is a shortcoming, that Dain has failed to emotionally develop in many ways beyond his 10-year-old self, and I appreciated that! So while Dain was whiney and ridiculous and really just a petulant child in a lot of ways, I could appreciate his growth journey.
Ingrid: Oh, he’s an absolute a**hat. I feel like the author does a fantastic job of making Dain’s shortcomings clearly comical, and I would dislike him strongly if Jessica were remotely bothered by it but she’s just so steady handed about the whole thing that it makes him look ridiculous and therefore a non issue. And then again, if he didn’t learn anything I’d think he was a trash hero, but he does and it’s so satisfying.
Erin: I mean. Dain’s dad told Dain his mom was a whore when he was 8. His dad was the typical terrible aristocrat father. He had no one to love him anymore, and then he was sent to school where he got bullied until he out-bullied the bullies. In many (most) ways he’s absolutely awful, and yes, the narrator clearly discusses this as a fault of his but also honestly it would be shocking if he didn’t have the opinions he does about women, which are seriously compounded by his view of his own worth. He’s a legit mess, and I really like it when messes who act out in not nice ways, grow a bunch, and get love too.
Thoughts on Jessica as a romance heroine?
Holly: Let’s be real, Jessica carries this book, especially in the first half. I don’t even care that she’s not like other girls. She is competent, self-aware, and takes no shit.
Ingrid: I totally picked up on the NLOG factor too, and I think what makes it work here is that she’s not remotely looking down her nose at other women (barring the ones who are after Dain, and that’s because she’s jealous, which is important to the plot). I will say it was somewhat confusing because she’s described as a bluestocking spinster but she’s ogled by all the dudes, so which is it?
Holly: It can be both! Being a bluestocking is a state of mind, not about a level of hotness. Yes, most bluestockings in romance also wear glasses and have bad hair, but Jessica is a bluestocking because she has educated herself about antiques and has a plan to support herself using that knowledge.
Erin: I can see the NLOG thing, and I felt it for a moment, too… But my take on Jessica is that she’s just totally comfortable with herself and she understands society, so she does what she wants and compromises where she must. She doesn’t think she’s NLOG, and Dain is attracted to her before she opens her mouth. She carries the book because she’s an awesome combination of romantic, pragmatic, and humorous. Usually a heroine is either willing to acknowledge society’s rules OR she bucks them, she’s trying to woo the hero OR she’s upset by his behavior, she’s a tomboy OR a lady. She’s not all of those things. But Jessica is, and as such she’s an incredible, well-rounded character who is a delight to read.
In terms of characteristics and personality, Dain and Jessica do not fall significantly outside of traditional English aristocracy romance characterizations. What makes this book special?
Holly: Maybe because Chase is thoughtful and deliberate about how these characters interact with each other and the world at large? For example. Jessica is not like other girls—a beautiful spinster bluestocking who raised her ten male cousins and is a crack shot—but each of these characteristics form an integral part of her character or of the plot. Take her skills with a pistol. When Dain publicly compromises her and then equally publicly refuses to wed her, he taunts her by saying: “So shoot me.” Because he’s that kind of man, and daring other men to call him out has always gotten him his way. But Jessica actually shoots him, in the most dramatic way possible, such that his continuing to spurn her reflects badly on him, instead of on her. (It helps that this portion of the book takes place in Paris.)
How is that not utterly delightful?
Erin: I agree with Holly’s assessment. On his own, I don’t think Dain is particularly interesting, but paired with Jessica, and with the narrator being fully willing to acknowledge Dain’s faults, the stage is set for a really delightful and engaging narrative. Also there are lots of tongue-in-cheek moments.
Going with the theme of the week: is this a morality chain romance?
Ingrid: I think the question is, would Dain have ever made any of the choices he makes without Jessica basically forcing his hand, and the answer is heck no. It’s a morality chain. Dain leaves the dark side against his will, basically, and all for Jess.
Erin: I was waffling a little bit Ingrid makes a good point. Dain certainly believes he’s terrible, and his only motivation to change his behavior is Jessica. Also Jessica specifically says, “A monster he may be, but he was her monster.” The dynamic is because they’re playing games with each other at first, so that makes the morality chain hold a little more tenuous, but it’s typically not as blatant of a moral/amoral pairing in histrom as in fantasy anyway.
Does the prologue support or negate a morality chain argument?
Ingrid: I think that it makes Dain a more dark and yet sympathetic hero, which is necessary when he’s just so awful. I think it helps the author establish a lot of motives that would otherwise be difficult to understand. And, had she not included the prologue she’d have had to interrupt the plot by explaining things which would have just ruined the speed and rhythm of the book. So, I think that the prologue doesn’t impact the morality chain argument much at all, but that it is a very well used tool to help the reader engage more fully with the (very complicated) characters right off the bat.
Holly: I agree with everything Ingrid said.
I will say that using the prologue to show the reader the hero’s childhood—and basically give the reader all the background they need to understand the development of his character—was an unusual choice, and does set up the novel to really be about Dain’s journey rather than about the two of them coming together as a couple. And I think that our conversation, for me, has really highlighted that this romance novel is really about Dain’s journey, and that Jessica, while she has some great moments, doesn’t have an opportunity for growth.
Erin: This is all very interesting. I asked this question because the prologue is fantastic, but it also gives us all these reasons that Dain is the way he is, and if he’s really a wounded soul, is he truly an amoral protagonist who will be guided by the moral protagonist? I suppose based on our comments above it might not matter, but it’s interesting how the origin story impacts our perceptions of a character’s behavior.
Ingrid: I do agree with Holly on the character development aspect, but I will say that Jessica would be offended to hear you thought she needed an opportunity for growth in the first place.
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