Scandalous Virtue

Rogue’s Honor by Brenda Hiatt
(Avon, $5.99, PG-13) ISBN 0-380-81777-2
Lady Pearl Moreston is fed up with her stepmother’s schemes to marry her off. She really has no desire to marry any of the boorish suitors that Mommy Dearest has paraded in front of her, for if she remains single until her 21st birthday, Pearl stands to inherit Fairbourne, the smallest estate among the Duke of Oakshire’s holdings. Pearl is supposedly an intellectual, and wants to use the estate as a testing ground for her ideas in social reform. The wrinkle is, how to avoid the Duchess’ evil plots while the Duke is in Brighton.

Instead of doing something that makes sense, like telling her doting father, Pearl decides to run away until Daddy can return. With the help of her abigail, Hettie, Pearl disguises herself as a common serving wench and soon finds herself accepting temporary employment in the kitchens of a neighboring estate that is hosting a dinner party - a party Lady Pearl was supposed to attend. So much for the girl having brains.

Pearl is, naturally, almost recognized and must flee the party before she can find Hettie. But never fear, gentle reader! For Pearl finds help in the form of Luke St. Clair, another “servant” at the party who just happens to be the notorious Saint of Seven Dials.

Luke was orphaned as a young lad, having never known his father and having witnessed the ton’s ill treatment of his sainted mother. Therefore, all members of the ton are nothing more than fat cats getting fatter, while the poor denizens of the London’s Seven Dials toil away. So our hero robs from the rich, gives to the poor and keeps some of the spoils for himself.

Pearl’s appearance muddies the waters a bit. He’s attracted to the poor girl, of course not knowing who she really is, instead thinking her a simpleton. I couldn’t help thinking he’d hit the nail on the head. But Pearl’s act isn’t all that convincing, hardly a surprise, and Luke only becomes more curious when she vanishes altogether from Seven Dials. Will Luke and Pearl meet again? Will their love be able to overcome societal norms and class distinctions? Will the Saint of Seven Dials be apprehended?

After the first few chapters, any hope that I would enjoy this story was shattered by Lady Pearl. There’s a fine line between impetuous behavior and stupidity, with Pearl sprinting across in record time. Luke isn’t much better considering he tars and feathers every member of the ton with the same brush.

The plot doesn’t really help matters much when several other conflicts are introduced into the story to give the couple even more to overcome. Wouldn’t one think that the difference in backgrounds between Pearl and Luke was enough of a challenge? Apparently not, for this Regency soon takes on all the trappings of a Victorian melodrama.

The final straw is when a bland, unthreatening suitor gets sucked into the nightmare. This poor fellow suffers because Luke and Pearl can’t seem to communicate like normal people and he inadvertently gets wrapped up in Lady Pearl’s childish behavior to thwart Mommy Dearest. By this time in the story, the reader is supposed to believe the Lady and the thief in love, which became increasingly hard for this reader to swallow.

Even two promising secondary characters, Flute, one of the Saint’s helpers, and Lord Marcus, Luke’s old school chum, were unable to stir up much enthusiasm. Rogue’s Honor takes an improbable plot, adds a large helping of melodrama, and drops two annoying leads into the mix, rendering the whole thing half-baked.

--Wendy Crutcher

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