HMH Books for Young Readers
HMH Books for Young Readers
For this month's book review, I'm taking a scandalous dance step outside my usual contemporary genre. Much like cheesy holiday movies in December, from time to time I lose myself in costume dramas as comfort food. I'm old enough to remember a time where historical romances were thin on the ground in publishing — especially young adult romances — so you might imagine my delight upon encountering the "irreverent regency romp" Sixteen Scandals by Sophie Jordan!
It's Primrose Ainsworth's 16th birthday, and no one seems to care. Prim is the youngest of four girls. In addition to being overlooked in general, Prim's parents are already overwhelmed by the impending nuptials of their second eldest daughter. They are so overwhelmed, in fact, that they announce their intentions to hold Prim back from "coming out" into London society with them, as previously promised. She fears the worst: That she is destined to become a spinster looking after her parents into their dotage.
So Prim hatches a plan with her best friend Olympia, the daughter of a famous Spanish actress (scandalous, yet such celebrity clout!). They take advantage of Prim's virtual invisibility and run off to the notorious Vauxhall pleasure gardens to celebrate her birthday. In masks, of course, and mama's gowns, so they won't be recognized. It will be a night to remember!
And wow, is it!
Vauxhall is a Regency pleasure island, full of alcohol and acrobats and countless dark corners for doing dark deeds. Prim and Olympia find themselves in the middle of a barroom brawl almost immediately, and are just as promptly separated. But, lo, Prim has been rescued by an anonymous young gentleman of quality! (Please be a duke, I whispered to myself. Please be a duke! Regency romances typically have more dukes than London has black cabs.) This man-boy, known only to Primrose as "Jacob," ends up escorting her until she can be reunited with Olympia ... which turns out, joyfully, to be quite a very long time.
I fell in love with the mysterious young Jacob as quickly as Prim did. Their partnership begins reluctantly, but as one adventure follows another, they get to know each other. Intimately. Much blushing ensues!
For those readers used to diving into contemporary novels, Jordan's prose here will seem a bit purple and grammatically backward, as if Yoda were reading the dialogue in a British accent. But I assure you, that is very much the style of typical regency novels. It is worth noting that even though it is presented as a period piece, many of the themes in Sixteen Scandals are quite contemporary: distracted parents going back on their word, the painfully overlooked Good Daughter risking it all for the memorable night she deserves, even sister Aster's disinclination to marry is exactly for the reason you think it is, and the author happily doesn't mince her words about it.
The majority of the text outlines that one fateful night. Those of us who are longtime fans of period romances might think of the simple plot and satisfying ending as too basic, but I believe that's the beauty of this book. It is the perfect entree for any young person who just binge-watched Bridgerton or every Austen miniseries and finds themselves wanting more. Personally, I found myself yearning for more of this story in particular. Far too much between the last chapter and the epilogue is left to our imagination. I would have gladly read more about the further adventures of Prim and Jacob!
Alethea Kontis is a voice actress and award-winning author of over 20 books for children and teens.