Title: A Scandalous Proposition
Author: Wendy Soliman
Publisher: Carina Press
Publication Date: September 12, 2011
Rating: 2.75 out of 5
I think I’ve become a bit burned out on historical romances, because with only a few exceptions, the ones I’ve read lately have been mildly interesting at best and yawn-inspiring at worst. Wendy Soliman’s A Scandalous Proposition falls somewhere in between there. It’s not a badly written novel; it’s just not all that interesting either. I requested this book for review because it features a Spanish heroine, which I found intriguing, but honestly Florentina Grantley could have come from any country invaded by Napoleon and it wouldn’t have changed the novel a bit.
The novel begins with Lord Adam Fitzroy at a tavern, where he rescues a “Mrs. Smith” from a man claiming to be her brother by allowing her to hide under the tablecloth. Mrs. Smith is clearly a gentlewoman, and when Lord Fitzroy discovers that they share the same destination, he offers to give her a ride on his horse (not a euphemism!). After dropping her off, he heads for the local brothel and is surprised and disappointed when “Mrs. Smith” arrives to meet with the madam. His surprise is all the greater the next day when he meets Mrs. Florentina Grantley, his mother’s new companion, and discovers that she is the infamous “Mrs. Smith” he met the night before. Believing Florentina to be a courtesan, he threatens to expose her to his mother if she doesn’t engage in an affair with him.
This is my first problem with the book. The hero just isn’t all that likeable at the beginning. He is blackmailing the heroine into a sexual relationship, and while he redeems himself fairly quickly, we also know (or at least it is implied) that the night he saw Florentina at the brothel he did the dirty with the madam, Christine. Ick. I’m not a huge fan of love at first sight, so I certainly don’t mind that he’s not swearing his eternal love for her already. However, I find it a little off-putting that he gets his groove on with the Madam while attracted to the heroine. Now, he’s definitely not cheating on her, because as of yet they haven’t begun any sort of relationship, but it wasn’t a selling point, that’s for sure. Do I want my heroes to be as chaste as the driven snow? Um, no, but I would prefer that they don’t have sex with an Abbess right after acknowledging an attraction to another woman.
As I mentioned earlier, the novel’s Spanish elements were what drew me to the book, but they were pretty much limited to character and place names. Really, the author could have substituted French names for the characters and locations, and with a few minor adjustments the plot would have been the same. Florentina is the widow of a British soldier serving in the war against Napoleon on the continent and she and her brother act as spies for the British. When she returns home to discover that her town has been ransacked and her parents killed by the French, she rescues her younger brother and sister and arranges to have all of them taken to England. Unfortunately, it turns out that the Captain to whom she’s entrusted their lives has plans to sell her and several of the other young women into sexual slavery. Florentina’s excellent English allows her to overhear the plot and arrange for escape. She’s been working ever since with the madam Christine and an English lord to rescue other victims from the same men, thus explaining her presence at the brothel when Adam Fitzroy mistakes her for a courtesan.
While the plot has a few miraculous coincidences, namely Florentina’s rescue at the hands of Christine, overall it works well as a romantic suspense, and Adam and Florentina’s romance is encouraged by the secondary characters. Unfortunately Florentina is portrayed as fiery and impulsive, which frequently translates into too stupid to live. Also, Adam and the men he gathers to capture the villains are supposedly all spies and soldiers, yet prove surprisingly inept during the denouement.
This isn’t a bad novel, because it kept my interest long enough to keep reading, but it certainly isn’t a good one either. My mother would have slapped a few of these characters silly, because everyone has a bad habit of interrupting one another, which grew tiring, but hopefully was corrected before publication. Although now that I think about it, my mother doesn’t tolerate fools lightly, so she probably would have slapped Florentina silly as well. I’d originally marked this book as deserving a 3 out of 5, but after thinking about it, I think it has to be a 2.75. Definitely a C- .