Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Dubious Reputations

I met Carrie Lofty at RWA in San Francisco. Don't ask me now what we chatted about, but I guarantee it wasn't about her book. Odd, I know. It wasn't until after I returned home from the trip, and Carrie gave my business card a test drive, that I learned her debut historical romance, What A Scoundrel Wants, features Will Scarlet (yes, the Will Scarlet from Robin Hood fame) as the hero. Naturally, I had to read it.

Will Scarlet is fed up with living in the shadow of his famous uncle. With Robin away at war, Will has left Loxley Manor (and Maid Marian) for the promised riches that await him working for the new Sheriff of Nottingham. However, while on a mission for the Sheriff, Will witnesses treason. A nobleman is dead, and it doesn't take long for Will to realize that he was assigned to the mission to play the role of patsy.

Before his confused brain can compute all of this though, he hears a woman's screams. Chivalry kicks in and Will saves her life. OK, so it might have crossed his mind that this woman is a witness and can testify that Will is not a traitor and did not kill a nobleman. Needless to say, his good humor vanishes when he realizes the woman he rescued is blind.

Seriously, it just ain't his day.

Meg of Keyworth lost her sight to illness years ago, and is on a mission to save her sister, Ada. A skilled alchemist, Meg's relationship with Ada is rocky at best. Still, Meg feels guilt over her sister's capture by the vile Sheriff of Nottingham, and was enlisting the aid of a local nobleman when a fight ensued and her champion ended up murdered. Now she's in the company of this Will Scarlet character, whose sole mission seems to be to irritate the hell out of her.

So imagine how happy Meg is when she finds out Will was the one who arrested her dear sister Ada and turned her over the Sheriff.

Oh yeah, she is so not thrilled.

This is a vexing story - mostly because it's biggest asset is also it's biggest hindrance. Both Will and Meg are "morally flexible." They'll plot, lie and cheat, all with a smile on their face and a twinkle in their eye. They're both connivers by trade, and it takes most of the first half for them to figure out how to trust each other, work together, and formulate some sort of strategy.

That doesn't rule out sex though. Lordy be, the chemistry these two have is enough to singe your eyebrows.

I'll be honest, I started out loving the banter and interaction only to become weary after a while. There's just so much plotting. And lying. And conniving. It plain wore me out.

But then there is a shift. At about the halfway point, Meg finds herself hung out to dry, Will comes charging to the rescue, and these two begin to admit their feelings. Well, Will does. It takes Meg a bit more time - she's a girl with an incredible amount of baggage, partly from her blindness, partly from her family relations. In that respect her and Will have much in common. Both straining under family obligation and expectations.

Because of this, and the added emotion Lofty infuses into the story, the second half moved by at an extremely fast clip for me. Not only are her characters dealing with the external conflict created by the Sheriff, but they also have to finally address the inner turmoil they've been living with. I was in heaven.

This really is a fascinating debut novel. Granted, I haven't read every historical currently on sale, but I'm fairly confident in saying that nothing you'll find on the shelves at your local Borders is anything like What A Scoundrel Wants. It's gritty, romantic, charming, with a bad boy hero that will make any romance reader worth her salt swoon (seriously, I did - and I don't swoon).
"Had I been dead and cold, your lips on my chest would have brought me back to life."
Oh. My. God. Yeah yeah, I'm a sucker for this kind of stuff. So sue me. ::swoon::

If you're one of those historical romance readers who whine bemoan the lack of originality in the sub genre these days? Yeah, run out and buy this book. And even if I'm wrong and you hate it? It's part of Zebra's debut program and it only costs $3.99. Seriously, y'all should run out and buy it on principle alone.

Final Grade = B+

What's next for Lofty? Ada's story - and whoa doggie, I cannot wait to get my hands on that one! Trust me when I say girlfriend has her work cut out for her on that story, because Ada is a handful. Scoundrel's Kiss is set for a 2009 release.


Barbara said...

Well, I've been waiting to hear about this one. I'll admit, I saw it, thought about it, and decided to wait a bit. Which quite honestly is very terrible of me, considering I won the promotional contest for the book ::shakes head in shame:: I'll be picking it up this weekend.

azteclady said...

Yes, yes, yes, indeedy!

Kati said...

I've read consistently excellent reviews of this one. It's on my TBB list.

Thanks for a great review, Wendy.

~ames~ said...

Great review Wendy! I seen the positive buzz around and bought it this past weekend. Can't wait to get started!

Gail said...

"I'm fairly confident in saying that nothing you'll find on the shelves at your local Borders is anything like What A Scoundrel Wants."

I must contradict you, my local Borders sold me this book.

Lori said...

Everyone is talking about this one! I must have it!

Susan Helene Gottfried said...

I'm reading it right now, too. So far, I have to agree about the first half... I'm only that far and yeah, I'm ready for the ride to start.

Stay tuned; I'd like to have my own review up in a week or so.

Alie said...

This sounds interesting, but I'm a purist and I have great difficulty reading books about characters originated by other authors. Case in point: the main Jane Austen P&P sequels out. No one can possibly do Darcy the way Jane can so I don't even try.

Wendy said...

Barbara: This was one of the more unique historicals I've read in a long time.

Kati: I don't want to call it "old school" - but it did remind me a bit of the "glory days" of historical romance. Probably because of the bad boy, yet charming hero, coupled with the medieval setting....

AL: Man, we really agreed quite a bit on this one didn't we?

Ames: Yeah, reviews for this one have been all over blogland. I've been slacking though, and just managed to wrap it up yesterday!

Gail: I could have worded that better. What I meant to say was that WaSW is a very hard book to "compare" to other books. It's unique. IMHO, I don't think it's possible to get it "confused" with some other English historical you might have read 2 weeks ago. Does that make sense?

Lori: See response to Ames. I know, reviews everywhere!

Susan: Yeah, I started out loving it, but as the first half wore on, my interest did wane. Take heart though, I found the second half picked up quite a bit and it really made the whole book for me.

Alie: I think Lofty was really smart is picking Will Scarlet, because he's always been a shadowy figure in the Robin Hood legend. Unlike Austen's Darcy, Will's character had a habit of changing to fit whatever particular ballad. Heck, depending on what version you like to believe, he's either Robin's cousin, nephew or illegitimate half brother! LOL It was easier for me to go along with Lofty's interpretation of him, because he's already so "up in the air."

Emily said...

I've been hearing so much about this book, mostly what it's about and not so much actual reviews. So thanks for posting about it because now I am definitely going out and getting it!

It will help during those night time baby feedings!