Lessons from a Scarlet Lady is a romance that features protagonists in a rather different way. Brianna is a newlywed duchess who wants a more passionate marriage. She finds a used copy of Lady Rothburg’s Advice, a book so salacious and so frank in its discussion of sex and sexual power that it was banned – so Brianna promptly brings it home to read so she can try to seduce her husband and crank the homefires to burning hot damn. The Duke, Colton (Colton? Is that really a historical English name?), is shocked to his dukely toes by his wife’s bedroom behavior, and finds himself fascinated by his bride when he’d expected to go back to his pre-marital routine of work, work, a little more work, and additional work. Meanwhile, among Brianna’s friends is a young woman named Rebecca, who has it mighty big and bad for Colton’s brother, Robert. Robert has a bit of a reputation, and has no idea Rebecca exists, but that doesn’t stop her from turning down several marriage proposals last season, much to her parents’ displeasure.
I loved that the narrative featured both an unmarried couple (Rebecca and Robert) and a married couple (Brianna and Colton). The idea that a marriage requires some of the same effort as a courtship and that a relationship grows and strengthens with attention paid to it is one that isn’t featured often in romance. I liked watching Brianna and Colton’s relationship grow and evolve. The wedding is often part of the happily-ever-after at the end of the book, but marriage itself takes an equal amount of effort and attention to be a happy one. Even though Brianna and Colton were already married to one another, I didn’t feel as if their relationship was stale, or that the risk was absent because of their marital status. Brianna runs the risk of alienating Colton, and is prepared to lose the cordial status quo of her life as his duchess on the chance that the attraction between them, which is real, could evolve into something more powerful. The emotional risk was palpable for her, and ultimately for him. Consider me shocked: I was worried about a couple that was already married! How… realistic! How unlike the romance genre, particularly historicals!
Rebecca and Robert, on the other hand, were a watery reflection of Brianna and Colton’s story, and I wish their story had been stronger, more present, and more detailed. Ultimately, it is Brianna and Colton’s relationship that is the center stage of this book, not the unmarried couple – a rare thing indeed. I wanted to read more of Rebecca and Robert, but found that so much of Rebecca and Robert’s key plot developments happened offstage. For example, when Colton and Robert have a terribly important meeting with Rebecca’s parents, it is offstage – and I missed the tension and the risk for the couple’s happiness that was played out at that meeting.
I very much like the idea of a scandalous manual to sexuality and gender dynamics making its way from woman to woman. Even better, some of the excerpted chapters read as a manual to manipulate men, and those methods didn’t quite work out for anyone who tried it in the course of the book. Lady Rothburg’s advice was either sexually descriptive, or encouraged direct conversation, or at the very least empathy toward the other party.
There’s one mention of a chapter that is SO scandalous the women themselves can barely speak of it. I AM DYING TO KNOW WHAT IS IN THAT CHAPTER, OMG. It would be quite a lot of fun to have portions of the book itself available – I almost want to implore the author to write a few chapters of the book (PLEASE CHAPTER 10?!) to go along with the novel. Lady Rothburg is as much a character in the novel as the rest of the protagonists.
So why a C+? Because even though I found the book very readable, and enjoyed it as a light and diverting novel, I found myself yanked out of the book so many times I had to push myself back into it. Every time one of the male characters showed a marked propensity toward psychological self-analysis, one step out, one push back in. Every time the men were comfortable revealing their inner squishy interiors to one another, one step out, one push back in. Every time one of the female characters bemoaned her lack of independence, one step out, one push back. Every time any character made a comment as to the state of female ignorance to all things sexual, one step, one push. I was doing the electric slide by the time I finished the book.
Also, the word “politesse” was used WAY too much. Like, 8 times or some crap. Every time you see the word “politesse,” take a drink. Because oy.
The bizarre self-analysis and frustrated grumbles for independence yanked me back and forth in and out of the story—but I liked reading it and while it didn’t viscerally move me, it was entertaining. It’s an easy and fun book that engaged me, but didn’t hook me and compel me to keep reading.
That said, Wilde succeeded in securing my affection for a married couple and I felt the risk of Brianna’s efforts, though I wish I hadn’t felt that uncertainty more than I did Rebecca’s. However, if Lady Rothburg has any more advice, I’m all ears. PARTICULARLY CHAPTER TEN.