A Scandalous Marriage, by Mary Brendan, is the third of four regency era novels involving the sisters of the Meredith family. That may explain the rapid introduction of several characters in the first chapter. Readers who have been following the series and not simply grabbing selections out of the 3 for $1 bin at the used book store are presumably better prepared than I was to meet all these people. Even more confusing, as per the back cover blurb, the story concerns a married couple. At the risk of sounding cynical, where’s the romance?
William and June’s marriage is in trouble. After three years there’s no sign of a child, despite ongoing and largely off screen efforts. Now Lady Constance is back in town, and keen on William. Constance and William were once engaged, but then she left him for a better prospect. Although William seems very decent and honourable, his mother never liked June. To make matters worse, William admits that Constance’s child could be his. Not surprisingly, June becomes increasingly insecure, and receptive to receiving attentions from another gentleman.
Given the set up and the title, I expected the marriage to become, well, scandalous. For better or worse, that did not happen. Instead, the plot eventually took a turn towards Gothic, and our couple, revealed to be the least interesting characters in the book, remain safely together with their marriage preserved. June might even be pregnant.
June’s various insecurities and her obsession with becoming pregnant indicate she is not a strong character, but I’ll forgive that as these are valid concerns for a woman of her time and class. Her naivete is a little harder to forgive, but she has led a sheltered life, and she shows some strength in the end.
Brendan’s regency era is grittier than many. William and June try to hide things from their servants, William visits a whorehouse (for honourable reasons, but June doesn’t know that), and several characters have money problems. Unfortunately, against this realistic background, a little unpleasantness in the marriage seems too light a story, and the action plot is too little, too late (and unrelated to romance). I may try another one in the series, to see if there is a more romantically driven plot, worthy of the setting, or more attention to the interesting characters Brendan can create. For this one, my bubble bath rating is unscented baby oil.