Sonata for a Scoundrel by Anthea Lawson is just the sort of historical romance I should love. While it has the familiar European setting of countless other historicals out there, it has the added bonus of not being another Heroine Lands Herself A Duke story. Set in 1830, with a rich musical backdrop, the hero is a celebrated concert violinist and the heroine is a composer who publishes under her brother's name. Because, you know, girls can't write music! The horrors! So I settled in for what I hoped would be a suitably gut-wrenching emotional read about a heroine forced to live a lie and falling in love with a man who has no idea that he's playing her music. Instead? Yeah, not so much.
Clara Becker grew up in a musical family and at one point they were financially solvent. Sadly, her mother's long illness drained the family finances leaving Clara, her brother Nicholas, and their father barely living hand to mouth. Nicholas used to teach piano until he mysteriously lost all of his students due to his fits of melancholy. Daddy doesn't seem to do much of anything (at least not over the course of the story), so it's up to Clara to keep them afloat, barely, with her composing. However, as a mere woman, and with the threat of scandal looming over their heads should the truth be known, Clara writes under her brother's name - an open secret among their family of three. Which is how Darien Reynard comes to find them. A celebrated violinist, he stumbles across one of "Nicholas'" pieces and knows this unknown, talented composer is just the thing his career needs. Certainly Nicholas is loathe to have to carry this charade out in the public eye, but damn - Darien is offering them obscene gobs of money. He accepts the job offer, on one condition. Dear sister Clara must be allowed to join the tour.
For the longest time this one fell into my dreaded "It's OK" category. It's readable, I never felt like I was slogging through it, but it was an easy story to put down and not come back to for a while. The corker was that it took me forever to figure out what "my problem" was with the story - and it finally dawned on me near the 75% mark (thank you Kindle). My problem was with Clara. She's totally inoffensive, and that's not really a good thing with a plot of this nature. I want her to be offensive. I want her to be bitter and angry and torn about the lie she is being forced to live. I want her to be angry. I want her, even if it's in the privacy of her own internal thoughts, to wail at the injustice of her life and be torn about the secret she feels she has to keep - even after she has fallen in love with Darien. I mean, this is a huge honker of a Big Secret. Keeping a secret like this, being forced to hide your talent only because of the mere fact you don't have a penis, being forced to let your brother take the acclaim that is rightfully yours? Yeah, I guess I expected more than just a pale, white-washed heroine who frets over her brother's dark moods and swoons at Darien's talent. What about your talent cupcake?
The irony is that it's Nicholas, Clara's brother, who struggles mightily with the deception. The reader literally sees this man fall apart over the course of the story. Reading between the lines one can deduce he suffers from depression. Living a lie, having to act his way through the tour with Darien, protecting his sister, and being forced into this lie for the good of the family? It's easy to see why he collapses under the strain. However the fact that he's the one that dissolves into a puddle, while the heroine seems to merrily traipse along, just didn't work for me.
Darien seems like an OK sort of bloke. I liked that, especially early on in the story, he exhibited a bit of an ego. I also liked that once he deduces Clara's Big Secret he doesn't have a major meltdown snit-fit over it. However I would have loved more information about his past, especially since the author teases readers with a rather tragic one (born in the gutter, used his musical gifts to rise above etc.). Instead we get a rather stock villain (a former student, naturally) and a former opera singer lover who threw him over because she disliked life on the road and wanted a more conventional life.
Ultimately I found this to be an OK story where I found myself muttering "What if...." a lot. I wanted it to be more and it just never quite got there for me.
Final Grade = C+