Following Becca’s blog on what makes a good summer read, Sophie Irwin’s new historical romance, A Lady’s Guide to Scandal, fits each specification on Becca’s list and then some. I readily admit that a historical romance set in England is hard for me to pass up, but I was also very interested to see how Sophie Irwin would follow her debut novel, A Lady’s Guide to Fortune-Hunting, which I’d thoroughly enjoyed last summer. In A Lady's Guide to Scandal, Sophie Irwin has surpassed herself, delivering a Regency romance with all the traditional elements, while making it so much more.
Lady Eliza Somerset, having married a much older man to oblige her family and not her own heart, finds herself widowed ten years later and unexpectedly in possession of quite a large fortune. Unfortunately said fortune comes with a morality clause and the reappearance of her first love, Oliver. Because of course Oliver's uncle is the man Eliza married for duty, and having had no children, the estate and the title pass to Oliver as the new Lord Somerset. Given these challenging circumstances, Eliza takes the opportunity to escape her overbearingly ambitious family and take up residence in Bath. With her cousin Margaret very properly as chaperone, Eliza intends to finish out the last three months of her mourning and snatch at some measure of freedom for the first time in her life. As Eliza is not of Jane Austen’s mindset when it comes to Bath (Jane was not a fan), she takes to city living immediately -- going to concerts, taking the waters, making new acquaintances, and privately taking up her old passion of painting. But when the scandalous and handsome Lord Melville comes to town, followed shortly by the new Lord Somerset, Eliza’s recently discovered liberty is threatened, as well as her heart.
At first I thought I was getting a redo of Persuasion, when we started off with the love given up for duty returning, from the sea no less. It soon became clear that Irwin was interested in doing more than simply reworking Austen. Her cast contains a diversity that isn't just for show, but rather explored thoughtfully within the time period. She doesn't shy away from calling the marriage mart what it is, bartering young women for social and monetary advantage. All the while she grows the character of Eliza from a dutiful and repressed daughter to a woman aware of her own desires. It was delightful to see the pleasure that Eliza takes in each small rebellion against the strictures she’s lived with her entire life. Every time she makes a choice simply to please herself I wanted to cheer. Playful language, an undeniable humor, and poignant self-discovery all made A Lady's Guide to Scandal one of my favorite reads of the summer!