Whisper of Scandal

Written by Nicola Cornick
Review by Mary Seeley

May 1811. Commodore David Ware has left his widow, society belle Lady Joanna, and his closest friend, Alexander, Lord Grant, a legacy – the guardianship of his illegitimate daughter – on the condition that Lady Joanna, from whom he was long estranged, travel to Spitsbergen to claim the child, currently lodged at the monastery of Bellsund.

Jo has longed for a child and nothing will stop her from voyaging to the Arctic – not even Alex and the inconvenient attraction they both feel for the other.

The author admits that there was no permanent settlement, let alone a monastery, on Spitsbergen in the early 19th century, but then this is the sort of story where belief can be happily suspended.

However, while I enjoyed Jo and Alex’s sparring and later, their deepening relationship, and the author’s sly parallels between celebrity culture and the power of the popular press “then” and “now”, I initially found Jo flighty and inconsistent as a character, and her erstwhile friend Lottie was just wrong. It was as if Sex and the City’s Samantha had donned an Empire-line gown!

I was unconvinced by the Arctic setting of the second part of the book, although the plot rattles along to a dramatic climax as both Jo and Alex find their emotions stripped as raw as the landscape.

I found more empathy with Jo’s character in these last chapters, and, in Alex Grant, the author has given us the perfect romantic hero – handsome, dashing, brave, yet emotionally vulnerable.