A Scandalous Situation by Patricia Frances Rowell
The Particulars: Historical Regency romance, Harlequin Historical #716, 2004, Out of Print, Available in digital, #3 in Earth, Air, Fire, Water series.
Why Was It In Wendy's TBR?: One of my colleagues at The Romance Reader gave this a 5-Heart rating back in 2004 (A Grade) and it sounded suitably angsty.
Trigger Warning: Heroine is a survivor of a sexual assault....by a group of masked men.
The Review: I'm not sure how a book can be boring and a hot mess at the same time - but somehow this book achieved it. It's exactly the sort of book I should have DNF'ed but (once again) waiting until the last minute to read my Challenge book for this month meant little time for alternatives. But hey, it's done with now and at least it's out of the TBR, right?
On the cusp of her coming out, Iantha Kethley's carriage is held up on the road to London. As one would expect, the assault has a lasting effect on her to the point where close quarters terrify her, a touch from anyone (male, female, her own mother) sends her skittering across rooms, and being out in polite society? Ha ha ha! It is to laugh. She can tolerate the company of children - but once young boys grow into men, forget it. It's in one of those moments of claustrophobia that she finds herself out painting, only to get caught in a snow storm. Coming to her aid is Robert "Rob" Armstrong, a local baron just returned from India. Iantha's response is to pull a pistol on him.
Rob convinces her that she can trust him, and there's nothing for it - the storm is bad. They go back to his rundown estate/castle/whatever and must weather the storm for a couple of days. When he finally is able to return her to her parents' home? He naturally asks her father for her hand. That's when Rob learns of Iantha's assault and the fact that six years later she receives threatening, gloating letters about the assault. Of which Bow Street has been unable to get to the bottom of.
The problems with this story are immediate in that the author drops the reader right in the middle of the action with no character development to speak of. One hopes in these instances that backtracking in the narrative and layering will give readers a more nuanced view of the characters and fully flesh them out. Here? Yeah, no. Doesn't happen. Iantha is the heroine with a tragic past, Rob is...a nice guy who lost his wife and child in India to a fever/illness. And that's all I got.
The tone of the plot is also all over the place. This story not only includes the fact that Iantha was gang raped, but there's a murder at a house party (that people sure seem to get over mighty quick - I don't know, a guest is murdered in my house I think I'd harp on about it for a while...), espionage, and the fact that Iantha's rapists (or maybe just one of them?) is still out to get her. Oh, and did I mention that Iantha also writes an advice column (a Regency Dear Abby) for a ladies' publication? Seriously, I'm still trying to figure out why the heck that was thrown into the stew pot. Then you have the requisite sex scenes where Rob is trying to coax his damaged wife through the ways of the marriage bed and...none of this hung together well at all. It's all over the place.
Because of the thin character development, I found the plot ran towards tedious. There are also problematic elements like the inclusion of an Indian Prince in Rob's household, a man immediately suspect when the house party guest is murdered because....well, he's a brown guy. Frankly the only reason his character is in this story is to tell Iantha about Indian deities and "warrior women" and naturally all that leads to Iantha working past her fears and blah, blah, blah (I know I shouldn't blah, blah, blah a horrific sexual assault - but given the lack of character development? I standby my blah, blah, blah). I found the use of Indian culture and Hinduism as a prop for Iantha to work past her fears a bit insulting. This isn't helped by the fact that once the Indian Prince serves that purpose? He's dispatched from the story.
I'll be honest, I've been a foul mood for the past week - so it's entirely possibly that my foul mood could be coloring my reaction to this book. I think it's the matter of me expecting more and not getting it. There's probably a good story here - somewhere. If, you know, there were character development and the plot wasn't so much of a hot mess.
Is this the worst thing I've read? Shockingly, no. But it's also not very good. I was indifferent to the point of flat-out not caring. A sure sign that I should have DNF'ed. As it stands:
Final Grade = D+