About the Book
Lord of Scoundrels (Scoundrels #3)
Mr. Impossible (Carsington Brothers #2)
- Loretta Chase
Sub-Genres: Historical Fiction, Action Adventure, Mystery
What’s Your Type: Bad boys, feisty heroines, societal scandal, soapy drama
Welcome to Week Three of our 2022 Grown-Up Guide to Romance Novels! Are y’all ready to get CLASSY?! Er, I mean, CLASSIC? Because I’m kicking it old school with Loretta Chase, who’s been smutting up mass market paperbacks since 1987. When you have a quote from Julia Quinn calling you “one of the finest romance authors of all time” on your covers, well, I can only assume you have a second home in Key West. RESPECT.
I was completely unfamiliar with Chase’s work, so I headed over to Smart Bitches, Trash Books to get some recommendations. Rather than focus on one series, I ended up reading one from her Carsington Brothers series, and two from Scoundrels—and since Lord of Scoundrels was everyone’s #1 pick, I read that one first. Thus, the following reviews will be slightly out of order, but I think we can all handle that level of disarray in today’s times, yeah?
From Fancy Dress to Fabio:
These covers are giving me major flashbacks to wandering the grocery store book aisle (yes, kids, grocery stores used to have a whole aisle dedicated to books and magazines IN PRINT) and being titillated by the suggestive yet tasteful (?) pictures of brawny men swooping women—always in ballgowns—into their arms. This is OG shit, y’all, and I am here for it! Special shout-out to the Captives of the Night cover, featuring the most mid-90s model sporting stubble, masquerading as an 1820s nobleman when he clearly belongs in a Steven Seagal movie.
Mrs. Perky’s Prize for Purplest Prose:
Don’t get me wrong, Loretta Chase knows how to turn up the temps, but some of her phrasing is just so very… dated.
He found the tender bud and the narrow parting beneath, but it was so small, so tight against his great, intruding finger.
He caressed the sensitive peak, and it swelled. She was clutching his coat, making soft, breathless sounds, trying to burrow into his hard body. Like a frightened kitten. But she wasn’t frightened. She trusted him. His own trusting kitten. Innocent. So fragile.
Kitten?! C’mon, Loretta, say what you really mean.
He pushed her legs apart with his knee. She felt the hard shaft throbbing hotly against her thigh while her own heat pulsed against his questing hand. He found the place where he’d tormented her last night, and sweetly tortured her again, until she cried out and her body spilled its feminine tears of desire.
Lord of Scoundrels (Scoundrels #3)
It’s March 1828 in Paris, and Jessica Trent’s idiot of a brother, Bertram, has fallen in with the wrong crowd. Well, specifically one member of a crowd: Sebastian Ballister, the Marquess of Dain and, if polite society is to be believed, the King of Hell. Dain is dangerously clever and absurdly rich, and he doesn’t think twice about frequenting brothels and gambling his nights away. Bertie, on the other hand, isn’t smart, nor is he very wealthy, so Jessica is determined to break Dain’s spell over him before his devilish influence sends the family into ruin. She inserts herself into the situation rather too well, because after simply one encounter with Dain, she’s thirsty AF, and thanks to their sizzling (verbal) swordplay, he feels the same way. But he also wants a piece of artwork that Jessica has recently discovered, and in his attempts to buy it from her, a battle of wits (and lust) begins. They each threaten to ruin the other’s reputation—for Dain, it’s tainting Jessica’s virtue as a virgin, and for Jessica, it’s making Dain appear to be ensnared by an eligible, upstanding woman—until forces bring them colliding together and unified against a woman named Charity Graves, who also happens to be the mother of Dain’s son. I won’t spoil the rest but suffice it to say, DRAMA AND SEX ENSUE.
The Leading Woman:
Jessica is a badass, and not just in the context of the time period. She can fence, ride horses, and shoot pistols—she’s so good at the latter that she can even pop the cork off a wine bottle at twenty paces, which is rad as hell (and handy if you don’t have a corkscrew). Thanks to her dynamite grandmother*, she’s also independent and sexually empowered, though she’s never been tempted by a man before Dain. I appreciated her common sense attitude and her confident intelligence, but while she’s far from boring, I didn’t find her character to be super compelling. (Like, we only get to see her shoot a pistol once!)
*I’m guessing her grandmother appears in another book in this series, because she’s too awesome not to star in her own novel. For example, she insists on her kids and grandkids calling her by her first name, because:
“I am a woman,” she would say to those who protested that such terminology was disrespectful. “I have a name. Mama, Grandmama… ” Here she would give a delicate shudder. “So anonymous.”
The Leading Man:
Lord Dain, a.k.a. Sebastian Leslie Guy de Ath Ballister, is nursing so much secret pain, you guys! His young Italian mother ran off with another man when Dain was a kid, so he was left alone with his cruel, unfeeling father, who eventually sent him to Eton, where he was bullied until he learned to be tough as shit. He lost his virginity to a prostitute at the age of 13 and never looked back, because he realized it’s easier to pay women for sex rather than get emotionally and legally tied to them. Though I dug how much pride he takes in his ghastly reputation, I felt a little let down by how soft and squishy he turned out to be underneath that rough exterior. We’re talking a LOT of mommy issues, y’all.
Risque Ranking: 6
The enemistry between Jessica and Dain makes for some steamy encounters, especially in the beginning of their relationship when they’re getting off on infuriating each other. While Dain takes pleasure in threatening Jessica’s virtue, it’s always clear that their physical interactions are consensual, which is important, obvs! It’s hot that Jessica wants to get it on as much as Dain does, but I had to deduct a few points for the following. As demonstrated in the Mrs. Perky section above, Chase uses what I would call “classic” romance language to paint her sexual pictures. You get details, of course, but you also get lines like this:
He was big and dark and beautiful and he smelled of smoke and wine and cologne and Male.
“Male”? Really? And that’s, like, a good smell? Jessica also has a habit of calling Dain “Beelzebub,” which, I’m sorry, is not a sexy nickname. Lucy, for Lucifer, sure! But Beelzebub? Hard pass.
Then there’s the issue of Dain speaking Italian when he gets all hot and bothered. Maybe some people (Jessica) find that swoony, but for me, it just felt cringingly cartoonish:
He pulled her to him, and dragged hot kisses over her face. “Baciami. Kiss me. Abbracciami. Hold me. Touch me. Please.”
Great, now I have that U2 song stuck in my head.
Was It Good For You? Hell If I Know
On one hand, Chase does an excellent job of sexually empowering Jessica in a way that still makes sense for the time period (and makes for fun in the bedroom). On the other hand, Chase resorts to a lot of slut shaming of Charity Graves, who might be conniving but engaged in consensual sex with Dain then got stuck with his son, because Dain refused to have anything to do with him. Soooo… it’s a bit of a toss up for me. I enjoyed the humor, and I liked the intrigue that happens once Jessica and Dain are on the same team, but I prefer bad boys who, you know, aren’t actually bad.
Daphne Pembrook is living the her dream in Egypt, where she’s trying to crack the hieroglyphic code. But since it’s 1821, and women aren’t allowed to have big brains, she and her brother, Miles, pretend he’s the expert while she also fakes being a grieving widow. Her much older husband was actually a condescending prick, and she was vastly relieved by his death five years ago. Having recently gotten her hands on a gorgeous new papyrus, Daphne is s-t-o-k-e-d, until she discovers that Miles has been kidnapped, presumably by someone who thinks he can read hieroglyphics and use them to find a hidden tomb.
Enter Rupert Carsington, the hellion son of the Earl of Hargate, who has been sent (a.k.a. exiled) by his father to Egypt. After getting into a spot of trouble with the law (after breaking it 23 times previously), Rupert ends up assigned as Daphne’s bodyguard while she attempts to track down Miles. He’s immediately attracted to Daphne’s figure, but it doesn’t take long for him to be even more intrigued by her mind, especially as they try to solve the increasingly complex mystery surrounding Miles and the papyrus, which might be even more valuable than anyone guessed.
The Leading Woman:
Daphne is SUCH a nerd, y’all! And, like, being bookish is cool* now, but back then? Not so much, which makes me respect her even more. She lectures on Egyptian artifacts when she’s nervous; she overcomes massive claustrophobia to explore tombs, which, may I remind you, are dark and confined, small spaces; she considers men to be “obstacles in her path.” After constantly being told by her husband (kiss my ass, Virgil!) that she was too passionate, too curious, and too alive, she’s afraid of every instinct she has, and it KILLED me to see her constantly second-guessing herself. But the flip side to that is when Daphne finally starts to understand and embrace her value, it’s a wonderful thing to behold. Cos baby, you’re a fiiiirework, come on, show ’em whaaaat you’re worth! (Although Daphne would probably take offense at the inaccuracy of Katy Perry’s “Dark Horse” video, bless her.)
*It’s cool, right? RIGHT?
The Leading Man:
Here’s the thing. When I picture Rupert Carsington—described as big and muscular, with dark hair and daring eyes—I picture Henry Cavill. So that might be all you need to know. But allow me to further elaborate on his smokeshow features, which include Han Solo-level swagger, fierce fighting skills, a devil-may-care attitude, and, you guessed it, a heart of gold. He is well aware of ALL of these attributes, except perhaps the last one, and this is demonstrated to hilarious effect by the use of exclamation points around his name… in the sections of the book from his POV. Example: “Sheik Salim had commandeered it for his learned (!!!) friend Mr. Carsington.” I truly adore Rupert, and not just because of his miles of charm (and, let’s be honest, his bangin’ bod). He notices things—more specifically, he notices Daphne in a way that makes her truly feel seen, and that’s just about the sexist thing a man can do.
Risque Ranking: 7
From the moment he meets her, Rupert delights in pushing Daphne’s buttons, and it’s awesome. He pretends to be dumb just to get her to geek out; he purposefully says ignorant white people shit about Egyptians so that she’ll school him; he jokes about her ladylike sensibilities when they both know she can hold her own. Over time, their banter grows more and more seductive even as it remains playful, and the mutual animal attraction between them burns into something bigger and brighter. The emotional connection feels earned, as Daphne realizes she is free to be herself with Rupert, but of course, we’re also here for the physical connection. And it does not disappoint! Though I regret to inform you that “Male” makes a reappearance (gah, Loretta, STAWP), you’ll forget all about it once you reach the sex scene in an ancient tomb that is just as swelteringly hot as the desert outside.
Was It Good For You? Guilty Pleasure
This was my favorite of the three Loretta Chase books I read, which I feel weird about (you’ll know why in a sec). Between a bookworm heroine and a dashing troublemaker, there’s already more than enough to stoke the fire of my interest, but throw in a swashbuckling adventure (with a mongoose named Marigold to boot) and I’m like Antony was to Cleopatra, a.k.a. smitten! I also super enjoyed the setting and the history infused in the story—I legit learned some stuff—but it’s worth noting there are some problematic portrayals of Egyptian people. At times, Daphne calls this out, which is rad, but there’s also what I assume to be an unconscious bias in Chase’s writing. Some might chalk it up to being “true to the time” but there’s a difference between a character being racist and the lens of the narrative being racist. I’d be interested to hear your thoughts, if you’ve read this book, but it reminds me of an Indiana Jones movie—it’s fun, it’s thrilling, but it’s also hella colonial.
Captives of the Night (Scoundrels #2)
After her father was murdered due to criminal activities, Leila Bridgeburton (not Bridgerton!) fell into the arms of Francis Beaumont, who promised to keep her family history a secret. Fast forward ten years, and Leila has become a celebrated portrait artist, while Francis has gotten way too good at celebrating with drugs, booze, and women. In order to make peace with her life, Leila has turned a blind eye to her husband’s dalliances, and therefore she has no idea that he’s wrapped up in a web of government secrets and political intrigue. But guess who does know?! A handsome devil named Ismal Delvina, a.k.a. the Comte d’Esmond, who also happens to be one of the last people to see Leila’s father alive.
When she discovers Francis unexpectedly expired in his bedroom, Leila knows it’s murder, but she has no idea who the killer could be—and she certainly doesn’t want her family tree exposed to society. Esmond, having tangled with Leila’s dad, also wants to keep the business of ten years ago under wraps, and through a series of (honestly confusing) events, he ends up partnering with Leila to solve the mystery of Francis’ death… and do a little sleuthin’ in the sheets, ifyouknowwhatimean.
The Leading Woman:
Leila is straight up RAD. Though the art world is ruled by men, she’s still carved out a space for herself and become legit successful. She’s also managed to put her husband in his place, like, dude will not mess with her on any level, bed, bath, and beyond. Buuuut that’s only after he completely took advantage of her at a young age, so Leila carries a lot of shame and distrust of herself and her desires. And she also blames herself for Francis’ descent into debauchery, so basically, I want to hug her mega hard and then help her find a good therapist.
The Leading Man:
Ismal/Esmond harkens from Albania (a nod to Loretta Chase’s own ancestry), and he’s got a HISTORY, which I’ll admit was full of a few too many threads for me to follow. In short, dude is carrying baggage, and he’s taken to shielding his emotions with a cool exterior that only enhances his godlike face and catlike* grace. He’s maaaaybe not the best guy, as evidenced by his dogged pursuit, years before this story takes place, of a woman who made it clear she wasn’t interested, and his admission that if he had been in Francis’ shoes, he also would have taken advantage of Leila. Though he does seem to massively respect her, and I will give him props for recognizing the double standard of society when it comes to men and women’s sexuality.
*Chase’s adjective, not mine. To be clear. Because unlike some people, I don’t use cats as metaphors, descriptors, symbols, or sexual inspiration.
Risque Ranking: 4
Look, I like a slow burn as much as the next gal, but this is a romance novel! I should not have to wait until I’m halfway through the book to get to, pardon the phrase, dry humping?!! That, combined with the description of Esmond as a “potent male animal” really did not do it for me. It’s also tricky to fan the flames when Leila has some understandable sexual PTSD from her early days with Francis.
Was It Good For You? Unsatisfied
Sure, maybe I had some wine while reading this book, and maybe that’s why I got a little lost in the sea of murder suspects and Esmond’s previous dealings with political leaders, but y’all, romance novels shouldn’t make you feel dumb! I will give Captives of the Night points for an interesting heroine and a Cover with a capital C, but overall, it was underwhelming, and I’m glad I read the third book in the series first—otherwise, I would have quit after this one and never met “Beelzebub”! Just kidding, Chase also refers to Beelzebub in this novel too.
Have you read any Loretta Chase? Did I miss any of your faves? Hit me up in the comments!
FTC Full Disclosure: I got all of these books from the library, and received neither compensation nor cocktails in exchange for this review.