The Scandalous Ladies of London:
The Countess by Sophie Jordan
Historical Romantic Fiction
March 28, 2023 by Avon
Review by Melanie
I struggled to identify what this book was because it really did not feel like a standard historical romance. According to Netgalley, it’s been categorized as both romance, which is honestly debatable, and women’s fiction, a term I personally loathe. For the purposes of this review, I’m going to label this book as Historical Romantic Fiction.
One of the reasons I’m hesitant to label this as a classic histrom is that the book includes the pov of multiple characters, not just the two main characters but a couple of side ones as well. And the side characters are not paramount to the two main characters getting together, they don’t really further the romantic arc in any major way, but they do lay the groundwork for their own books as the series progresses. In fact, one of them will undoubtedly be the main character in the very next book in the series.
Secondly, for much of the book – by which I mean like 95% of the book, the FMC, the titular Countess, is married, rather unhappily, to her cheating husband. As it does take place in the 1800s when divorce was not that common and rather difficult to obtain, one can reasonably conclude that in order for the countess to find true happiness and personal fulfillment, her cheating husband has to meet an untimely demise.
And that’s exactly what happens in the very last chapter! He gets run over by a milk carriage as he’s chasing his wife down a busy London street.
My problems with the book are twofold. First of all, I don’t have any sense of the characters at all and after much reflection, it dawns on me that it doesn’t really feel like the author does either. They are written very superficially, as if they’re caricatures of people of that time. The FMC, Gertrude, the Countess of Chatham, has resigned herself to a loveless marriage. She and her husband don’t even reside in the same house. He is off carousing with his mistresses and gambling and drinking while she’s at home raising their two children, one of whom is a daughter making her debut. She is angry when her husband proclaims that he’s found a suitable husband for their daughter, a wealthy outsider looking for a way into the aristocracy. Things are further complicated when Tru as she’s called, finds herself drawn to this enigmatic and rich stranger, a self-made hotelier named Jasper Thorne.
I don’t really get a sense of how these two fall in love to the point that Tru is willing to leave her husband and the life she’s known to be with him. Much of the book is about Tru trying to stay away from Jasper and also convince him not to court her daughter.
Jasper for his part decides he wants Tru the second he meets her and manipulates things to make sure they are forced to spend a lot of time together. He essentially pretends to court the daughter (with her knowledge) so that he can have access to her mother (that part is not known to the daughter). It’s a very soapy situation, made worse by Tru’s husband who is desperate for Thorne to marry his daughter because he’s broke and wants the financial windfall Thorne can provide.
Once again, I have to say I didn’t actually like any of these characters. Leaving aside Tru’s husband who is obviously the villain of the story, Tru herself has no real agency and I can’t really fault her for that because that was by and large the lot of most women back then, even rich and titled ones. But what bothers me most is how Tru keeps insisting to her daughter that she is not going to let anyone force her daughter to marry someone she doesn’t love and yet, she has no real concrete plan for how she’s going to stop this from happening. Her first attempt is to try and talk her husband out of it which, most people can guess, even without reading the book, that plan is doomed to fail. He has zero regards for his wife and is less than interested in anything she has to say. Then she tries to convince Thorne himself but he’s playing a different game, where he just wants to be close to her and is pretending to court the daughter as a means of getting to the mother. And then, she goes back to her husband, because I guess their first conversation went so well…??
It’s not the premise that really bothers me – I thought there was some potential here, a soapy, melodramatic histrom. But it’s the way all of these characters are written, barely developed, lacking any real depth, and without any real motivation or agency. Tru is just resigned to her lot in life for most of the book and her only real motivation is to make sure her daughter doesn’t suffer the same plight. But she doesn’t really have any plans in place for how she’s going to prevent that from happening.
The romance, as I’ve already stated, isn’t really the focal point or if it is, it fails miserably. I truly don’t know what either of these characters see in each other much less how or why they fell in love. There’s a HEA but it doesn’t feel well-earned, there’s no real feeling of victory when the final page is turned and I had zero investment in either of these characters (or, frankly, any of the side ones either). I will provide content notes but as they can be construed as spoilers, I will tag them as such.
On page death of Tru’s husband, on page death of another side character, on page spousal abuse, on page cheating
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