Eleven Scandals To Start to Win a Duke’s Heart is the third and final book in Sarah MacLean’s “Love by Numbers” series – I wrote about the first two here and here.
Like the first two, Eleven Scandals is the story of the family of the Marquess of Ralston, and their romantic struggles. This one focuses on Juliana Fiori, the Italian-born half sister of the series’ first two protagonists.
Juliana does not fit into genteel English society. They despise her because she’s the illegitimate child of a scandalous woman, and she despises them because they are cold and passionless.
No one epitomises this coldness than Simon, Duke of Leighton. His life is irreproachable, scandal-free, and almost emotionless. As one might expect, the two of them are thrown together by circumstance and so on, causing Juliana to question how much she hates society and Leighton to relax his rather rigid rules.
Both Juliana and Leighton have appeared in the previous books, but only as supporting characters – Juliana had a somewhat larger role than her Duke, but both now spring into full prominence.
As this is the third book by the same author in the same series that I’ve reviewed, I’m not going to spend a huge amount of time going over the basics – hopefully, anyone interested in my overall thoughts on the author or writing style will follow one of the above links. Eleven Scandals isn’t a massive departure from the pattern of the first two, in theme or style; generally, it has the same strengths and weaknesses that the other books show. Overall, I found it enjoyable – of the three books, my favourite is definitely the first, but this has all the necessary elements to be entertaining. High-society intrigue, unlikely lovers, detailed dresses: Eleven Scandals is a decent Regency romance.
There are some significant differences though – it isn’t just a carbon copy with the main couple’s names changed, just as Nine Rules to Break and Ten Ways to be Adored were distinct from each other. The most notable difference is that this book is rather less “Regency” in style.
The clothes are all there, and the setting, even the style of the narration is very Austen-inspired. However, Eleven Scandals dispenses with the understatement that normally typifies such books.
Jane Austen’s most romantic pairings are all very cautiously and quietly aligned – Anne picks up a letter, Darcy proposes because it would be awkward not to. No one stands with a boombox in a garden at night, or interrupts a wedding. That’s something that such romances have taken as a trope: the actual final fulfillment, no matter how much clandestine duelling has led up to it, is a rather quiet affair, shown by a pressed hand or a slight deepening of colour on someone’s cheek.
Eleven Scandals is different; I’m not saying that it features a race through an airport or anything of that ilk, but it definitely steps outside the boundaries of polite Regency society at various points, more and more openly as the novel goes on. People shout their actual feelings across crowded ballrooms, fall down stairs, and engage in countless other crass behaviours.
To do MacLean credit, the background characters do react to such shenanigans with appropriate alarm and scorn, but the fact that such things happen at all does bring a very different flavour to the novel. Such romances follow rules of deportment that are rarely crossed: you can punch the Earl, for example, but you can’t loudly argue with him or mention his personal business in public. At points, Eleven Scandals’ characters seem to be trying to jump to a more modish genre.
It’s not a bad thing, but it is rather more dramatic and active than other comparable novels – there’s more focus on the action in places, and less on the archetypal arch conversation.
One of the downsides of reading a series of books all at once is that you start to recognise phrases that the author is fond of – if you read one book from a series one week, and the next a year later, you’ll never notice, but read all of them in a week and the language becomes more noticeable. It is a near-unavoidable issue with writing several hundred thousand words on the same topic: occasionally, very slightly, there will be repetition.
That’s all fine – it’s a very minor downside to being able to stay within a story for longer. It isn’t even annoying, more just something that you become aware of. The same thing happens with romances, but to a greater extent. The author of Eleven Scandals does have a couple of phrases that pop up again and again (nipples “pebble” every so often, for example), but the more obvious noticeable element is the sex.
Not the bare fact that it happens – that’s pretty much a given for any modern romance. It’s more that the sex, across multiple couples and multiple books, shares some clear common elements. It’s very orally focused, for example, to the extent that every other act tends to get sidelined, even the one that is (traditionally) viewed as the main event. All of the description focuses on mouths and the various things that they are doing, whether in a library or on the Yorkshire Dales. It is interesting to note that of the three couples in the series, all three of them have similar sexual tastes and escalations.
That, again, is not really a criticism – it’s just a pattern that becomes obvious if you read the books in quick succession. It isn’t even something that only MacLean does; Ilona Andrews is another author who tends to have an obvious pattern in her romantic scenes, Quentin Tarantino famously includes lingering shots of feet in almost everything. Noticing such a pattern doesn’t ruin the story or irreparably break immersion, it just reveals the wires for a moment or two.
So by book three, it’s a bit more obvious that the whole thing is a book, the intentional structure is a little more visible. That doesn’t stop the book being fun, and it doesn’t ruin the romance; frankly, it probably wouldn’t be noticeable if I’d read much in between the books.
To sum up, Eleven Scandals is a standard regency romance with a bit more obvious dramatic action than the norm, and it falls neatly into place – sometimes a little too neatly – with the other books in the series. Overall, its an entertaining read with the necessary happy ending.