PRELUDE TO A SCANDAL – Delilah Marvelle
The Scandal Series , Book 1 of 3
Lady Justine Fedora Palmer is the daughter of an earl, an African naturalist whose recently published observations in innate buggery amongst South African Mammals, and advocacy for the repeal of anti-sodomy laws, land him in prison. Desperate to set him free, the virginal Lady Justine writes a letter offering her sexual favors to the Duke of Bradford, a libertine of wide renown, in exchange for his assistance. The duke refuses her offer in the kindliest tones, and in his letter proposes marriage instead.
Having pined for him for two years, Justine is ecstatic, but after five weeks of engagement, without even laying eyes on her fiancé, and with her father no closer to release, she takes matters into her own hands and goes alone to pay a call on the duke at his home. When she is refused admission, she forces the servant at gunpoint and barges into the duke's private chambers while he bathes.
The duke, during this time, has been recovering from an injury, a knife wound to the face that left him badly scarred. He has cloistered himself away and has sworn himself to celibacy while he tries to cure himself of his “obsession” with sex, for which he feels was responsible for the injury and harm to another. As the story progresses, we discover the reason Bradford is so gripped by his “obsession” and why he is so driven to change his ways and live a monogamous life. Justine's boldness and her attempts at seduction are almost too much for him to bear.
In PRELUDE TO A SCANDAL, Ms. Marvelle has given us a flawed hero who has become, through near-tragic circumstances, acutely aware of his preternatural fixation with sex and is sworn to become a better man. He is coupled with Justine, a woman who loves him despite his weakness, and is bent on helping him reform. Adding to her hero tortured with a sexual addiction, Ms. Marvelle has also chosen to dip her toes into homoeroticism. From the imprisonment of Justine's father for his socially liberal views on buggery, to the openly gay Frenchman who is hired as Justine's lady's maid, and later a courtesan who reveals her lesbianism when she passionately kisses the heroine, the theme seems to pervade the novel.
While some readers may find Ms. Marvelle's rather modern take on these complex social issues in the 1829 setting unconventional and intriguing, other more traditional readers may find the same somewhat off-putting in a historical romance novel.