Romance readers love their charming rogues, and Zoe Archer delivers one with the aptly titled, Scoundrel - the second book in her Victorian adventure paranormal Blades of the Rose series. And like all romantic scoundrels who have come before him, Bennett Day finally meets his match.
London Harcourt has led the life of a pampered Victorian lady because her father subscribes to the school of thought that women are delicate, hothouse flowers who must be sheltered or else their pretty little heads will explode. However what Daddy doesn't realize is that London, as a way to starve off total boredom, has developed a love of ancient languages. In fact, she's quite a skilled linguist. Which is how she ends up in Greece. Daddy eventually realizes his daughter has a few brain cells, and being a high-up muckity-muck in the evil Heirs Of Albion, needs his daughter to help him find a magical Source. A Source that will bring the rest of the world to it's knees, and England to ultimate glory. Of course, London doesn't know any of these messy details. All she knows is that finally, after years of mourning her late, but not lamented, husband, she's finally having an adventure!
Enter stage left, Bennett Day, the Blades of the Rose member who is in Greece to thwart the Heirs from getting their hands on another magical Source. He has a chance encounter with London in the marketplace, not realizing who she is. However, when he finally does? He sets about trying to sway her to the side of good. Although convincing her that his cause is the right one could be tricky. I mean, first he's competing against her own father, and then there's the small matter that Bennett killed her husband. Yeah, minor detail that.
You've got to hand it to the author, Bennett is a world-class scoundrel. This isn't a guy who plays at being a rogue, he is one. Oh sure, he's noble when it comes to his cause. And oh sure, he's charming as the very devil. But the guy gets around. A lot. He adores women, but it's more of a surface adoration. One doesn't have any doubt that when he's with a woman she feels like a queen, but ultimately, like all cads, he leaves. Even if his work for the Blades didn't dictate that he move along to the next mission, one would know that Bennett warming your bed would be a most temporary affair. Until he meets our fair heroine, of course.
London is a woman in desperate need of an awakening. Not so much sexual, although Bennett certainly makes her girly-bits tingle more so than Dead Hubby did, but more an awakening of life. She has a brain and wants to stop hiding it. She wants to be treated like a person, not a pretty Victorian glass bauble that does nothing other than collect dust. And once she wraps her mind around what her father has dragged her into? She quickly makes up her own mind on the entire matter, and chooses the right side.
As an adventure story, and as a heroine's journey, Scoundrel works very well. Archer continues to have an excellent eye for world-building, and doesn't water down her details or skimp on development. I hear a lot of complaints from historical fans about "thin" stories, and so far these first two books in the series have been the antithesis of that. However the reader does have to be willing to swing with the fantasy elements, which while painted with a light touch, are more prevalent in this second installment.
What I wasn't entirely sold on was the romance. I suspect mostly because of Bennett's reputation. The thing with scoundrels is that I want them convincing (which Bennett is) but I also need that "something" that convinces me that the leopard will change his spots. I get that Bennett is attracted to London, but I'm not entirely sure what makes her The One. Likewise, while I'm happy London uses her own brain to puzzle out the conundrum she's in between Daddy and Lover - once she makes up her mind, it's like she completely sheds the skin of her past. I mean, she stops thinking about it...at all. Yes, he's evil. Yes, he's wrong. But he's still your father. You just don't dump that sort of baggage overnight - I don't care how great the orgasms are.
But even with the romance not lighting my world on fire, I still liked these two characters an awful lot. The world-building continues to inspire, and the adventure elements continue to be top notch. The first two books have been swashbuckling fun, and lucky for readers hungry for these types of stories - we've got two more books to go.
Final Grade = B-