My review contains spoilers and they're mostly my thoughts as I went with the book...
Ashlyn Macnamara’s debut novel, A Most Scandalous Proposal, was an enjoyable read; at least for the most part. What really bugged me were the activities of the two sisters, Julia and Sophia. The heroes, Benedict and Rufus were adorable, and this book is worth reading only for them. But when you have two great heroes and then you find the heroines being ninny and pushing them away (while you’re screaming ‘WTF woman??!!’). You’re sometimes bound to do some *headdesk* along the way.
This story is told from the POVs of the characters, sometimes Julia and Benedict, sometimes Sophia and Rufus, so at first I felt confused because it was really distracting me from the general narratives. But I got used to with the storytelling sometimes later. It took me a while to determine who the main couple of the story was because to me, both sisters had almost the same amount of space and attentions in the book.
Julia and her elder sister, Sophia, are in London for another husband hunt. Their mother, an ambitious b*tch, wants both her daughters to have titled husbands and needless to mention, money. The family is in dire financial need, thanks to their father’s mismanagement and strong habit of gambling. So the two sisters are the ‘hope’ to save the family from going to the poor house. It’s easier said than done because Julia’s father isn’t titled. Their mother also isn’t from a noble/titled family, but she wanted a titled husband for herself. It never happened though, the whys of which we get to know later in the story. Now, both sisters are beautiful, Sophia was probably one of the most beautiful girls when she made her debut 5 or so yrs. ago. She’s all in vogue with her blonde and delicate looks, inherited from their mother. Julia is darker, but lovely in her own way. No one, at the least, can say that it’s their looks that kept them from having husbands. In fact, both were courted by men or some tried to court them, but none of the sisters reciprocated. And so, now, they’re still unmarried at their advanced age, and two ‘hope-crushers’, things that their mother reminds them every freakin’ minute.
Got me thinking, why really, are these two still unmarried? So I find that Sophia has been pining away for some golden boy of the Ton, one William Ludlowe, for the last 5 years since her debut. We meet Ludlowe in a ball both sisters are attending presently. He’s also of golden good looks and full of charms. Or is he? Sophia can’t tell since she melts into a puddle of sheer delight if Ludlowe so much as look her way once and bestows her with one of his flashing smiles. But most of the times, he ignores her. Completely ignores her, something Julia, the one with more rational head on her shoulders, can see clearly. In fact, Julia can’t stand Ludlowe and his oily charm at all. She despairs of her sister’s one-sided adoration for the man. Everyone knows that Ludlowe is a rake, a really worse one at that and he’s selfish, completely oblivious of who he’s hurting on the process of making his conquests. As far as Julia can see, he doesn’t possess one ounce of brain or sense to speak of. To sum up, Ludlowe is a creep and a jerk. Today it seem that Ludlowe, again, is ignoring Sophia completely and, worse, has now turned his oily charm on her. Julia shudders to think what might be on his mind!
Julia also isn’t getting married because... hmm, the reason behind it was kind of ridiculous to me since I couldn’t really understand it. She was afraid of falling in love and vowed to resist that however she can. One bad example was her sister, of course. And then there was their mother, a bitter and unhappy woman, constantly vying for things that she’s not meant to have. So Julia has decided she won’t get married, as there’s a chance of falling in love that won’t be reciprocated, and would stay a spinster. But she has a good childhood friend, Benedict, who is the second son of an Earl. They were very close when they were growing up and often played together. Benedict has been in the army and fought against the French. Benedict has returned now. Julia can’t wait to see him. But since Benedict doesn’t like London and balls, he’s not that often here. He rather likes his horses and trying to work for a stud farm, something of his own. Julia doesn’t have to wait too long when Benedict trudges inside the ball, directly towards her. He has some news and needs to speak with her, privately. But private nooks aren’t for unmarried couple, so he butts someone off of Julia to get her to dance with him, another thing that is so-not-Benedict. Julia is a bit overwhelmed to see him after quite sometimes. He has grown, of course, which she knew, though purely theoretically. They have often exchanged letters and she considered him still a close friend but now that she had seen him again, Julia can’t help but notice his pretty blue eyes against his bronzed skin, or his dark hair. All so familiar, yet seems so anew, making her heart flutter! For Julia, it’s a total bad news.
Benedict had the same for Julia; a weakness for her since childhood. He found her lovely back then, and he finds her lovely still. Seeing the grown up Julia is a blow he quite successfully hides behind his mask of slight indifference. But Benedict needs to discuss this recent development that directly concerns her. Gossip has been swirling around that Ludlowe will be the new Earl of Clivesden soon because the current earl died alongside his only issue. When he inherits, he’d be in the market for a bride to secure his title. The jerk has done something that is truly him, and offensive; he’d put a bet on Julia’s name, which Benedict found in the marker, saying that she’d be Ludlowe’s Countess in a certain period of time. Benedict is totally enraged by this because this was done mainly to bring Julia down. Everyone thought her cold and aloof and Ludlowe saw her as a challenge. Julia needs to ignore Ludlowe’s advances no matter what.
On the other side of the ballroom, Sophia was mad at Ludlowe who was dancing with her and now, left her and then disappeared with some blousy heiress. She can’t stand this and mad at the woman. Funny thing was, Sophia thought all the talks of Ludlowe’s conquests were only talks to malign him. To her, he was a prince. I just wanted to shake Sophia a little, to rattle her airy brain to see the reality of what Ludlowe actually was. She was, in fact, SO BLIND that she got angry at Julia because Ludlowe paid attentions to her, even though Julia never even encouraged him in anyway. This was plain pathetic. And then, something happens; something which gave me a little headache. When she spies Ludlowe with that heiress in sort of a making out situation, she loses it. On her way to recuperate, she faints... and falls in the arms of the Earl of Highgate, Rufus.
Rufus is a much older guy. He was once married, but his wife cuckolded him (later we learn that the d*ck was Ludlowe... duh!). Rufus loved his wife, and was terribly hurt when he found them together. The woman died in an accident on the way to one of her trysts. So he and Ludlowe have a ‘history’ of sort that many don’t know about or heard the adulterated version bandied about by Ludlowe. He fought with the creep, and now, has a scar on his face to prove it too. Rufus is reclusive due to all that scandal. He likes living in his estate as a monk, a fact his widowed elder sister nags about all day long, annoying the hell out of him. He needs an heir, that’s for sure. The title going out of hand is a fact, Mariah, who is a stickler for propriety, can’t even contemplate. Her nagging is what forced Rufus out of his estate, and now, in this ball. But this soft and beautiful miss who fainted on his arms does pose some problems. Somehow, both his sister and Sophia’s mother find them together and now Sophia is considered compromised. Oh happy day for Sophia’s mother! An Earl for one? And another would be Earl vying for the other’s hand? Sophia’s mother is in heaven right now. She is more than eager to show Sophia ‘compromised’ so that Rufus is forced to ask for her hand in marriage.
This leaves Sophia unhappy, and she acts as a martyr, as if being married to Rufus is a fate worse than hell. She’s also acting betrayed with Julia who is a bit baffled by all these. She too thinks she’s done something wrong here, hurting her sister, when all the while I could see that both needed a hard shake and kick Ludlowe out of their mind and system. As soon as Ludlowe starts calling on Julia and again, completely ignoring Sophia (who would act like a hurt puppy) or talk of nothing but polite greetings. Once he found Sophia alone and the d*ck insinuates about Rufus’s supposed scandalous reputation and ‘dark’ past which I felt, was to totally rile her up. He was successful as Sophia begins worrying about her fate at those insinuations. It’s very much apparent that the d*ck had always known about Sophia’s infatuation with him but since she posed no competition (and no money to speak of) he never gave a sh*t about her. Even though Sophia’s musings proved that she’s not entirely the air-head everyone thought her to be, she still made me frustrated by believing in Ludlowe’s crap. But one of the most frustrating moments was yet to come, when Julia refuses Bendict’s proposal of marriage. Benedict isn’t a man with sly charm, but honest and true. And he always suspected his feelings were rather deep where Julia was concerned. He thought this was the only way to save Julia from harm. But Julia and her crazy ideas! She denies Benedict, hurting him much in the process. I just wanted to slap her, plain and simple because Benedict was adorable in his own way.
Now, Rufus, he was another story; more experienced in life and by age. Not a man of many words, but his quite words and ways exudes authority. Rufus was hell of a sexy thing; quiet ones are the hottest and all that. And he was determined to have Sophia in his life, even though having a wife was the farthest thing on his mind when he came to London. After seeing and holding Sophia, even for a while, in his arms told Rufus that he needs to have her. But he won’t force her, oh no, Rufus would woo her… in his own way. *shivers* So, what happens is, he makes a plan and tells Sophia that they’d get officially engaged. She can cry off a few weeks later. Sophia would go with this plan (as she mentions to Julia) but, the thing was, she couldn’t deny Rufus’s personality. It was attracting her like a moth to a flame. She even tried telling herself about Ludlowe, but now, he’s not the one she is thinking about often.
Soon, at a ball, Sophia-Rufus’s engagement was announced. But Julia was caught by surprise when she was forced to watch and be the party to another announcement; hers with Ludlowe. It was just... *shakes head* I wanted to slap Julia’s parents for being so insensitive but I also thought it was what Julia deserved for her idiotic ideology of life and yes, for refusing someone perfectly eligible as Benedict, who was so eager in his proposal. There was a scene with her father and another with her mother, where her parents’ callous behavior was as clear as the daylight. The way they treated their daughters were plain horrible. Rufus’s sister, Mariah, was no less rude to the sisters. I laughed myself silly where Rufus finally got annoyed by her bullying around, especially about Sophia and how she’s not ‘good enough’ for him, and gives Mariah some ‘suggestions’ to divert her attentions elsewhere. :p
In all of the characters, I think Rufus was the one with a cool and reasonable head on his shoulders. He takes his sweet time to woo Sophia as she deserves, opening up a little about him in the process. He knew her absurd infatuation over Ludlowe, and so once, he relates his own tale and the blow his wife dealt him to make her understand that he knows how it feels. Sophia gradually begins to soften towards him, seeing Ludlowe for the crap he really is. It was very much apparent that they were connecting as she never had the hope of connecting with Ludlowe. Rufus also tells her that Ludlowe would’ve never been faithful to her. In one carriage scene, Rufus and Sophia become plenty close. I wished for love scenes between Rufus and Sophia but regrettably, there was none. I had to be happy with his efforts of convincing Sophia that their match could be so so good, if only she would open her eyes and see reason. But, umm... whatever he did was utterly delicious! After that, Sophia sort of knew that she can’t escape Rufus. Then she realizes that she doesn’t want to anymore.
Benedict was very concerned about Julia and didn’t know what to do. His friend, Upperton, who is generally a jolly fellow, but with a tad too much fondness for women and gambling, keeps poking him about things. Well, Upperton is just... Upperton. He has this humorous side that I loved a lot. He’s one of Benedict’s closest friends, and was there with him in quite a few scenes. In almost each of those, I had something to laugh about from his dialogues. It’s apparent that he hides a lot behind his jovial personality cause when he sobers up, he can be serious. He knew about Benedict’s love for Julia. Even though he was one of the people who signed the gambling sheets about Julia and Ludlowe, he is a bit embarrassed about it too. He wants Benedict to fight and not drink himself to oblivion hearing the news of Julia’s engagement. Soon enough, Benedict gets the chance too, when a few days later Julia comes secretively at night, offering him a scandalous proposition. She wants him to compromise her so that Ludlowe breaks off the engagement. Benedict is, at first, a bit baffled but he makes her understand that he loves her and if this is to happen, she will have to marry him. And that’s the best way isn’t it, to fend off Ludlowe? After all the idiocy throughout the story, Julia finally sees the reasoning behind Benedict’s words. It was so obvious that all he wants is to make her happy, even if he can’t give her a title. That very night they elope.
Shortly afterwards follows a duel, when they are found together after doing the deed and Ludlowe challenges Benedict. What goes around, comes around and all that. Ludlowe the hypocrite couldn’t take that Julia bested him, and humiliated him with Benedict. But I don’t think he saw it this way; that he is now in a position where he put his supposed best friend (he was shagging his fiancée) and many other husbands. He’s that big of an a$$! Benedict and Upperton already knew about Ludlowe’s a$$hatty behavior when they were students together. I wished Ludlowe to die in that duel so that I could bid him good-riddance but sadly, he doesn’t. Instead he injures Benedict badly. The last few chapters were pretty good and more action packed than the rest. I was still kind of cheering more for Rufus-Sophia than Julia-Benedict. Even though I started liking Sophia by then, I still couldn’t warm up to Julia that much. She took her own time to give the three words back to Benedict, which was utterly frustrating.
Overall, A Most Scandalous Proposal was a good read; the dialogues interesting and AMac’s writing admirable for a debut author. Upperton is getting the next book, and even though I previously read some disturbing (to me) piece of information about him, I’m quite eager to know him better. 4 stars.
PS: I seriously hope that the author doesn’t decide to torture us by giving Ludlowe (or Clivesden as he becomes later) a book, because I had a feeling of something like that... My response is a big NO!
This ARC was provided to me by Random House/Ballantine Books via edelweiss which didn’t influence my review and rating in any way.