I’m always ready to wade through a new-to-me author’s back catalogue. Jade Lee has favourable-ish reviews on Amazon/Good Reads and Wedded in Scandal was $1.99 on Amazon. That is definitely my preferred price for a potentially disposable historical romance novel. Given the size of Lee’s output, if all goes well, I’ll have new reading material for several weeks.
1. What do I expect from the “historical” elements in these novels?
Distance for escapism, proximity for familiarity.
Obviously, these books are not realistic. Historical accuracy is what Jane Austen is for. I read exclusively 19th century English set novels because I feel like I know something of the way of life at the time, I think I know about the clothing, and there is just enough modernity to make it feel familiar. Just far enough in the past to make it feel distant and separate, and not so long past that my brain is screaming “unclean”, as I do with medieval romances, or “so cold” as I do with the Highland settings. Big historical details can draw the eye towards inaccuracies and undermine the author’s work. Little details give authenticity and create space for the author to subvert authentic historical representations, i.e. put a bonnet on modern sexual and social mores. I believe Wedded in Scandal to be set in the 19th century based on –
- the cover art
- the presence of horse-drawn carriages
- the absence of electricity
- the theory that if it was the 18th century, people would be wearing wigs
I did not base my conclusion on any details from the book. There were none to draw on. No useful details, no historical references, and, maybe I missed it, no date at the beginning of Chapter One as is industry standard. There was a cursory class warfare theme, but that’s hardly period specific. Perhaps they are living off the grid, but I’m going with 19th century.
Working with my non-specific 100 year period and my very specific devout interest in period clothing, I was amazed to discover that Lee had managed to avoid any detail in these aspects as well, despite the heroine’s profession. Did I mention that she is referred to as a clothing “designer”? The business she has set up consists of herself, a seamstress, and some sort of book-keeper/door watcher, so far. Let’s back that up. “A seamstress“. One. One person sewing everything. Singular. By hand. Without electricity. Just her. Solo. I don’t care how much your business is struggling, I’m reasonably sure the setting is the 19th century and that means there is a plentiful and ready source of cheap, exploitable labour.
Helaine, her name is Helaine, is the daughter of an absent disgraced aristocrat and lives under a pseudonym. Her mother, the Countess, lives with her above the shop where they make the non-specific period clothing. But they don’t make or wear corsets because, apparently, despite fashion conventions in western women’s (and sometimes men’s) dress for at least 200 years, no one is wearing a corset. Wait. A CLUE! My cursory research* tells me that corsets were sometimes abandoned during the Regency because the flowy clothing did not require them. This would explain why Robert, his name is Robert, can feel all of Helaine through her clothing and why she is wearing a one piece dress that buttons up the back and a simple shift. My powers of deduction are making me feel ever so clever. Now that I think about it, Helaine’s father stole supplies from soldiers. It’s not a slam dunk, but the soldiers and the lack of undergarments are going to bring me firmly down on Regency for the time period. One offhand mention of the Prince Regent or Napoleon really would have made things so much easier.
2. So how was the story?
All over the place.
The hero, Robert the Generic Noble, is uptight and down-to-earth. Literally, he nervously goes down into a coal mine in his first scene. He is a good man despite his earl-esque stuffiness. We see him grappling with the issue of child labour in the mine. He wants to end it and start a school, but says he can’t afford it, although he does limit the child labour being used. Then he complains about the cost of his sister’s trousseau, wears an emerald stick pin, and takes everyone shopping. The school thing is actually a convenient plot point to get rid of some annoying in-laws later. Robert also runs a safe house/hospital for prostitutes and their children where he helps with their medical issues. He secretly longs to be a doctor, but can’t because of the strictures of his position, or something.
That last paragraph was bit of a mess, wasn’t it? Well, so was the book! It’s a more of a historical shrug than a historical novel. The tone is very uneven, themes are picked up and abandoned, the heroine is a vacillating mess, and the hero is inconsistent. Characters act strangely both for the setting and for no other discernible reason than to stretch things out.
3. Did I get lucky?
I’m giving this one a C. I won’t be reading any more Jade Lee.
*I owe Julia Quinn an apology for my complaints about the heroines’ clothing in her books: Julia, I sincerely apologise and I should have realised that as accomplished and delightful an author as yourself would probably have done proper research. I was wrong to have doubted you.