A Scandalous Journey
by Susannah Carleton
(Signet Regency, $4.99, G) ISBN 0-451-20712-2
***
The premise of A Scandalous Journey is quite inventive. George, Earl of Weymouth, is kidnapped by Lady Arabella Smalley, a rather notorious divorcee who wishes to trap George into marriage. Arabella has also had her henchmen kidnap George’s little niece and the girl’s governess, a young woman who now lays unconscious. When she awakes, George finds she’s no governess. She’s Miss Beth Castleton, an American who has come to London to live with her titled aunt and uncle. Beth and George put their heads together and, with the help of two unhappy servants, plan an escape. Beth is shot in the shoulder in the process.

George takes Beth, the servants, and his niece to the nearby hunting lodge of his friend, the Marquess of Elston. Luckily, Elston is in residence. Chaperoned by a housekeeper and a maid, Beth slowly heals. George must return to London and see his niece safely home, and Beth must return to her family. With Elston along for assistance, they embark on a journey together, one that will come back to haunt them.

Upon their return to London, George decides he must do the honorable thing and offer for Beth, who promptly refuses. She will not trap him into a loveless marriage. George finds he can’t stay away from this intelligent, honorable woman who shares his love of mathematics and music. Beth falls in love with George, but he doesn’t seem to return her feelings. Then Lady Arabella returns to town and decides to ruin Beth’s reputation. That scandalous journey is soon on everyone’s lips. Now Beth, with the help of her new friends, must face it down.

Beth and George are delightful. She’s brave, smart, and unafraid to face Society, and she never hesitates to do the right thing. No shrinking violet here, and her characterization never falters. George has never been in love, and doesn’t recognize it when it finally hits him. Far from being thickheaded, he’s portrayed as kind, sensitive to Beth, and eager to do right by her. I liked them both.

What made this book difficult at times was the uneven pacing and the author’s heavy reliance on long narrative passages with little action or dialogue to liven things up. Much of the story is “told” to the reader, which made the pacing slow down and the mood flatten out. This is a shame because the dialogue, what there was of it, was quite intelligent.

I did question the ease with which a divorcee would have moved in Society, even a titled one. Lady Arabella seems to face no cynosure for her past, which didn’t quite jive with the Regency period in which it was set. When faced with believing the tarty Arabella or the well-respected and admired Beth, who has taken the ton by storm in her Season, Arabella is too easily believed. It just didn’t ring true.

A Scandalous Journey is one of those books that will be remembered more for its initial setup than for its development and resolution, though. A good idea not quite executed well enough to do it true justice. Still, there’s plenty here to interest lovers of Regency romance, and I’ll be on the lookout for more works by Susannah Carleton.

--Cathy Sova


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