Sunday, August 29, 2010

Last Night's Scandal by Loretta Chase

Last Night's Scandal was nearly all I wanted for a follow-up to Lord Perfect. Only some pacing issues and a slight lack of character depth compared to Loretta Chase's other Carsington books kept it from being as good as Lord Perfect. Still, I enjoyed this sequel very much.

Peregrine Dalmay, Lord Lisle, returns to England for a visit from his Egyptian excavations. His irrational parents blackmail him into restoring a crumbling old castle in Scotland said to be haunted by ghosts. Lisle is initially determined to resist his parents' demands, but Olivia Wingate-Carsington, a childhood friend grown into a devilishly beautiful young woman, tricks him into journeying to Scotland with her. The unconventional Olivia is determined to have one last adventure before she is forced to choose a husband and settle into a life of stifling domesticity.

The first three Carsington books featured some wonderfully funny moments, but Chase outdoes herself here. Last Night's Scandal was hilarious, especially in the first half. Many of its laugh-out-loud moments came from the Ladies Cooper and Withcote, two wicked old women Olivia brings along as "chaperons." (Two more unsuitable chaperons could not exist, according to Lisle, outside of a brothel.) Olivia, with her penchant for "noble quests," also made me howl with laughter. She was like a combination of two of my favorite Georgette Heyer characters: Arabella, with her tendency to become enraged and act without thinking, and Sophy, with her good-hearted gift for manipulation.

What was most fascinating about Olivia as a character was she was utterly unsuited to live a conventional, respectable English upper-class life, with its endless round of tea parties and carriage rides and balls. Adventure and romance were like air and water to her. Lisle, also, was an unconventional man unsuited to an ordinary gentleman's life, but he could act the part when needed, while Olivia could not. She needed him to ground and calm her, while he needed her to remind him to live out his true desires.

Unfortunately, the novel began to drag when the characters arrived in Scotland, with the mystery of the castle's ghosts and hidden treasure drawn out too long. Chase also wrote scene after scene in which Olivia and Lisle succumbed to their attraction to each other and sternly told themselves they would never do it again, only to fail at the next temptation. The story did pick up in the last 100 pages, and Chase brought the romance to a tender, successful conclusion.

Olivia and Lisle's love story did not resonate with me as powerfully as those in the previous Carsington books. Because they were so young compared to the other couples and had fewer obstacles to overcome, their romance wasn't as rich. Their self-imposed reasons for staying apart seemed trite in comparison.

Still, Last Night's Scandal was a fun read, and if Chase wants to follow these characters back to Egypt, I will willingly take the journey. My grade: B

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