Eleven Scandals to Start to Win a Duke's Heart (Love By Numbers)
Sarah MacLean set the bar high for herself when she penned the hilarious Nine Rules to Break When Romancing a Rake, her romance debut, and could easily have written herself into a corner, trying to chase the jokes, but end up losing the heart. Luckily, she sidesteps this trap neatly in her latest novel and final installment of the “love by numbers” series, 11 Scandals to Start to Win a Duke’s Heart.
Julianna Fiori is a scandal even before she arrives in London, her past preceding her to the sitting rooms and ballrooms of London. Her subsequent entrance into society and inability to fit in with all the lackluster English debutantes has only compounded the problem.
Though protected by some of the most important families of the ton, Julianna keeps ending up on the wrong side of the gossips, and there are those who look down on her for it. They include Simon, Duke of Leighton, one of the highest ranking, most highly respected members of society. Julianna values passion and life; Simon values reputation and stability. They both want to teach the other a lesson—what remains to be seen is only who will come out the victor.
Readers do not have to read the two previous books in this series to enjoy 11 Scandals, but the story will be more satisfying (and make more sense) if they do. In particular, the enmity between the two families is poorly explained if one is not already familiar with the backstory. It’s not crucial to understand, but it seems tenuous otherwise that Leighton would be spending as much time near Julianna as he does, or that Julianna’s family would have as much power as it does. Further, the two previous novels are a delight, so should not be missed.
As mentioned above, Ms. MacLean cleverly eschews the trap of trying to out-funny herself. 11 Scandals—while still displaying the light and wit that is fast becoming this author’s trademark and earning favorable comparison to Julia Quinn—is, for all extents and purposes, a very serious novel. Too much levity and the character of Julianna risks becoming a caricature. Too little sense on her part and she becomes selfish and immature.
Instead, Ms. MacLean approaches her heroine as someone who unwittingly starts scandals merely by being herself, and is subsequently haunted by her inability to behave appropriately. The result is a very likable heroine who gets herself into very funny situations, but who shows depth, self-knowledge, and emotional maturity, thereby rendering the story a much richer experience than if it had relied on humor alone.
The premise also delves into some of the aspects of the Regency (and surrounding periods) that most historical romances gloss over—namely the suffocating nature of the 10,000. The endless balls, beautiful gowns, and exquisite manners lend a fairy tale aspect, but the truth is that the dresses were uncomfortable, the balls overcrowded, the manners a trap easily sprung, and the company repetitive and often dull. Those most respected were often the least liked, and one mistake could cost not only you, but also your entire family and many of your friends, a future.
This is the ton that Julianna encounters, and the one she must navigate through. It is the ton that Simon has dominated, but the one who has imprisoned him to a life of staid responsibility. It is also the context that adds poignancy to the love affair between Julianna and Simon, when it could have just been a story of opposites attract.
Fighting their attraction—and later fighting for their attraction—gives the story the strong grounding it needs to take it out of fluff territory and into a deeper, more meaningful, more memorable domain.
Cleverly orchestrated and genuinely touching, 11 Scandals to Start is a treat from start to finish.