Review: The Viscount’s Sinful Bargain by Kate Archer (2020)

Posted June 4, 2024 by Mary Kingswood in Review / 0 Comments

This shouldn’t have been my cup of tea at all. It’s awash with dukes, it’s all about the season (yawn) and it features a feisty heroine and an arrogant hero. And yet, somehow, it worked, and I thoroughly enjoyed it. Who’d a thunk it?

Here’s the premise: six dukes are thoroughly fed up with their heirs refusing to marry and provide them with the vital grandsons they need to continue the line. They form a pact to knock their respective sons into shape, which involves losing their allowances and having to live in penury. The said heirs are outraged by this potential curtailment to their enjoyably wife-free lives. I did wonder where all the younger brothers were in this scenario. If the dukes themselves had done their duty as they should, then surely there would be two or three more sons in the pipeline if the number one sons fail to come up to scratch? But it’s a small point.

The sons are required to put in an appearance at every suitable engagement they’re invited to, and be sociable. Naturally, as the pact becomes known, every ambitious young lady and her mama sets their sights on one or other of the ducal heirs. Resentfully, until they can find a way of evading the terms of the pact, they turn up as bidden. Thus Edwin, Viscount Hampton, randomly agrees to dance with Cassandra Knightsbridge, where she is so miffed by his surly manners and lack of conversation that she berates him in ringing terms. Later, when she happens to sit near him at supper, she is still so cross with him that she lets slip certain unladylike facts about herself – that she likes to ride at a gallop, and without a groom in attendance, and that she regularly goes out shooting pheasant.

Lord Hampton and his friends strongly dislike the attention now being focused on them. If only the gossipy ton had some other story to deflect attention from the pact… and Edwin remembers Cassandra’s unusual habits. But galloping and shooting pheasant aren’t quite peculiar enough to do the trick, so Lord Dalton, one of the six, sends a man off to deepest Surrey to find some scandal about Cass.

Almost at once, Edwin has second thoughts. It’s really not honourable to besmirch the good name of a lady, and besides, she’s the most interesting female he’s ever met. When they manage to talk properly to each other, they find they have a great deal in common and actually get on rather well. But too late. Cass’s reputation is shot to pieces, her own ball is ruined and she’s forced to bolt back to Surrey.

I won’t spoil the surprise of how things go after this. Suffice to say, I enjoyed it hugely and it all seemed very appropriate (if not very plausible, but the proliferation of dukes already puts it out of the realm of credibility). There are a couple of events that happen very conveniently for plot purposes later on which really stretch the suspension of disbelief almost to snapping point, but I was enjoying the story too much at that point to be overly bothered.

There are some nitpicky things that bothered me. The Americanisms, for instance, such as looking ‘out the window’ (Brits would say ‘look out OF the window’), and fall and stoop (English houses don’t have stoops). Dance cards – well, so many Regencies have dance cards, even though they weren’t a thing until Victorian times, so let that pass. Gentlemen wouldn’t normally ride to a ball in town (such a pain to have to change into full evening dress when you arrive). The house in Berkeley Square that has a front garden (a cursory glance at Google StreetView would set that right; the vast majority of London houses, and every house in Berkeley Square, are virtually on the street, with only the narrow space of the ‘area’ (access to the basement) separating front door from pavement). And what does it mean when the heir to a dukedom is ‘already an earl’? He has a courtesy title (typically a marquessate, but it could be anything), but he isn’t an actual peer.

But despite all that, this book creates an authentic Regency atmosphere in one very important sense – it’s all about rank, ie the class system, which drives all of English society in those days. Those with rank used their power and influence to affect those below them, but they in their turn could be influenced by those of higher rank, and therefore greater power and influence. And despite those Americanisms and the irritating number of dukes, the book is beautifully written and I found it utterly absorbing. Five stars. Oh, and that title? A bit misleading. There’s nothing the least bit sinful or steamy about any of it.

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