Review: Viscount Vagabond
Viscount Vagabond is a Regency romance by Loretta Chase, who is usually a must-read author for me. I’m honestly not sure if Vagabond and its sequel, The Devil’s Delilah, are simply so old that Chase hasn’t developed the style that makes me love (the majority of) her books, or if I’m just cynical enough lately that they fall flat for me. They’re not bad books, by any means, but I just can’t find many nice things to say about them. Perhaps they’re simply too formulaic, typical bland Regency fodder. Perhaps I need a break from historicals and should go find a nice paranormal or cyberpunk romance to read instead.
Anyway, back to the book review.
Our Vagabond Viscount in question is Clarence Something Maximilian Demowery (there might be two Somethings in there instead of just the one), Viscount Rand. Insert lame joke here about Lord Rand being v randy. Raised as the younger son of the Earl of St. Denys, Max was v upset when he was dragged back from America
like a recalcitrant schoolboy because his older brother died and he was now his father’s heir. There was also something vague about his father ‘buying off’ the American lady Max wanted to marry so he had no excuse not to come home. Given six months of ‘freedom’ before he is expected to settle down and be all respectable, Max seems to have spent most of that time living in the Regency equivalent of a slum and being all debauched and disreputable.
Our heroine, Catherine Pelliston/Pennyman/Pettigrew (no relation to Wormtail, I assume) ran away from home to avoid an unwanted marriage while her abusive alcoholic father and brand-new stepmother were away on their honeymoon. Catherine’s brilliant plan was to throw herself unannounced at the feet of her former governess and beg for shelter, or something, but instead she finds herself falling for the time-honoured ‘tricking an unwilling girl into being a prostitute, because heavens know there aren’t enough women who would whore willingly to put food on the table’ scheme.
Fortunately for Catherine, her very first customer is none other than our randy Viscount, who she somehow manages to persuade that she’s really not there willingly. He eventually agrees to help her escape, and pays Granny Grendle, the brothel’s madame (Beowulf, anyone? Though Angelina Jolie was much hotter than this lady sounds) the shocking sum of fifty pounds for Catherine and all of her belongings. He still thinks she’s a whore, though, and takes her home, where he proceeds to not-ravish her. Possibly because he passed out drunk, the book was a little hazy about that since the scene was from Catherine’s view and she was hiding in the bedsheets at the time.
Now that Max finally believes she’s not a whore – or that if she is a whore, she’s not putting out for him – the next day he takes Catherine to the school where her former governess is teaching. Or was teaching, rather, since she appears to have eloped with another teacher (I think? They didn’t really say who he was) and is currently in Ireland or Scotland or somewhere else inconsiderately too far away to be of use to Catherine.
Since she wasn’t putting out earlier but he for some reason feels guilty about abandoning her, this time Max takes Miss Pettigrew, as she’s told him her name is, to visit his sister, Lady Andover, who for some reason we must know is childless but would be an excellent mother (ten bucks says Lady Andover is pregnant by the end of the book). Catherine eventually runs away from there, too, with a ridiculous plan to sell her hair to a wig-maker to get money to go back home and resign herself to marry the man she ran away to London to escape marrying in the first place.
Luckily for both Catherine and the obvious romantic pairing, she gets lost on the way to the wig-maker’s, not knowing London at all, and is manipulated by a small streetwise boy by the name of Jemmy into taking a position as a seamstress for Madame Germaine. While she is AWOL, Lady Andover’s husband admits that he thinks she’s some kind of second or third cousin of his, and not Miss Pettigrew at all. So Max enlists the aid of his valet (I think) to track down the elusive Miss not-Pettigrew, who they find working in Madame Germaine’s shop as Miss Pennyman.
Then make room for another ridiculous plan, as Max attempts to convince Madame Germaine that Catherine has lost her memory and needs to get home because her family is worried about her. Or something. I’m not quite sure whether Madame actually believes that nonsense, or just wants Max to go away, but eventually she acts convinced enough to make Catherine leave with Max, who promptly dumps her back at Lord and Lady Andover’s. Lady Andover has apparently decided that they should give Catherine the London Season she’s never had, and somebody – I think Lord Andover – wrote to Catherine’s father and managed to gain his blessing and the end of the unwanted engagement.
Cue developing feelings between Our Naive Heroine and Our Debauched Hero, ODH’s insistence of courting another lady, Diana Glencove, despite his developing feelings, some blackmail when the jilted fiance finds out about the whole brothel thing, and Diana running off with her childhood sweetheart after getting engaged to ODH. And some kidnapping, since that was about the only trope that hadn’t been used yet.
For all that we’re told Catherine is a bluestocking and an intellectual, she has next to no common sense and to me, doesn’t seem that smart or knowledgeable. Frankly, she’s a bit of an idiot, which I coud happily excuse if she were not constantly called an intellectual bluestocking by practically every character. It’s definitely lacking the ‘show’ and with too much ‘tell’.
Despite her not-a-ravishing-beauty appearance in the beginning, Catherine quickly ‘blossoms’ into the typical bland attractive romance heroine once she has some decent clothes. Oh, and she has a ‘tinkling laugh’ taken to ridiculous excess:
He heard a faint tinkling sound: Miss Pestilence was giggling!
Isn’t that charming, he’s given her her very own insulting, unflattering nickname!
Max, Lord Rand, is pretty much a generic Regency hero. He has a Bad Boy Past, resents his position in Society and the accompanying edicts to Not Be Scandalous, and all the ladies have the hots for him. I loved him in the beginning of the book, when he was being all disreputable and depraved, but by the middle he was just blandly stereotypical and seems to have lost that unique edge. His insistence on courting Diana despite his growing feelings for Catherine make him seem to me like a bit of a jerk, and the hot/cold/rude ways his feelings and thoughts so only solidify that opinion.
I liked Lousia, Lady Andover – and would have won that bet about her getting pregnant – and Jack Langdon, one of Catherine’s Inevitably Disappointed beau, but they were really the only good parts in the book. The sub-plot about Diana Glencove’s romance with that other guy whose name wasn’t important enough to remember seemed tacked-on and unnecessary – we’ve already established the hero is a debauched rakehell jerk, breaking off an engagement wouldn’t shock too many people.
The scenes with Jemmy were superfluous and he seemed to simply exist as a miniature deus ex machina or to demonstrate how Socially Aware and Kind To Those Less Fortunate Catherine and Max are (I say put your money where your mouth is and adopt the kid, but of course he’s still a servant by the end of the book).
Honestly, while overall it’s not a bad book, it’s not a terribly good book, either. It’s a light read, and others might enjoy it, but I can’t say I did. Not recommended.