Narrated by Justine Eyre
Although I enjoyed reading The Rogue Not Taken, the first book in Sarah MacLean’s new Scandals and Scoundrels series, the audio wasn’t an automatic review choice as I haven’t been impressed by Justine Eyre’s narration in the past. The last time I heard her in a British-set historical, I found it hard going and couldn’t finish it because of a number of vocal mannerisms I found extremely irritating, but that was a few years back and I decided to try her again – with mixed results.
The story is basically a road-trip romance that begins when a mix up sees Lady Sophie Talbot, desperate to escape from a serious gaffe at a ton party, stowing away on the carriage belonging to the Marquess of Eversley, one of society’s most infamous rogues. Sophie is one of the five Talbot sisters, the other four of whom feature regularly in the scandal sheets and seem to enjoy their status as gossip-fodder. Sophie, on the other hand, has never done anything remotely scandalous – until she catches her eldest sister’s husband in flagrante delicto with another woman, and is so incensed that she calls him a whore and pushes him into an ornamental fishpond in front of hundreds of members of the ton.
Plucked from obscurity a decade earlier when their father was elevated to an earldom for favours rendered the Prince Regent, the Talbots moved from their home in Cumbria to London, where Sophie’s mother and sisters delight in the endless round of balls, parties and entertainments, even though they are aware that, being “new money”, they are merely tolerated by the great and good of society. They live life on their own terms, making the most of their notoriety, but Sophie hates it; and following the fateful fishpond faux-pas, decides to go back to the place she regards as home – a small village in Cumbria called Mossband – and make her life there. It’s a pipe-dream, of course, and deep down she knows it is – but she’s so tired of feeling out of step and not belonging that she longs for some peace and quiet away from the glare of society to think about what she wants.
The Marquess of Eversley is rather a stock-in-trade romantic hero. Gorgeous – check. Rich – check. Determined never to marry because of a youthful love affair that ended in tragedy – check. Hasn’t seen his father in years and hates his guts – check. Fortunately, as well as that whole rich and gorgeous thing he’s got going on, he is also witty, protective of Sophie (even when he doesn’t want to be), sexy and rather charming at times. Their relationship starts out very much on the wrong foot (she throws away one of his boots, so yes, pun intentional!) and they bicker and snipe at each other for much of their journey, but that’s one of the highlights of the book – the verbal sparring is terrific and often very funny in a way that feels natural and unforced.
I like a good adversarial romance, and this IS a good one – but the story isn’t without its problems. For one thing, the ending is dragged out, with a completely unnecessary plot twist which seems to be there simply to provide an opportunity for Eversley to behave like a complete arsehole and Sophie to do something equally underhand, thus putting one final, pointless obstacle in the path of the HEA. And it takes a while to warm to Eversley who is sometimes downright nasty to Sophie, even though he is eventually revealed to be a decent, though troubled, man, who genuinely cares for and wants to help her. The couple has great chemistry, and the road-trip format gives them plenty of opportunities to talk and get to know each other; and I enjoyed the way they become aware that there is more to the other than meets the eye; Sophie isn’t a walking scandal and Eversley isn’t the scoundrel society paints him.
So it’s a thumbs up for the story… but not so much for the narration, because it very soon became apparent that the issues I’d struggled with previously have not gone away.
I know Justine Eyre is not British (and even if I hadn’t, it’s obvious very quickly), and on the positive side, her English accent is generally good, as is her pacing. She puts an appropriate amount of expression into both dialogue and narrative, and she differentiates well between characters of different genders. I liked her interpretation of Sophie, and she injects the right degree of emotional nuance into her dialogue and into narration told from her PoV. She is also quite good at portraying the couple of children who appear in the story. But her male characters are less successful, and while she does have a distinct “hero” voice, most of the secondary characters – the doctor, Sophie’s friend Robbie, the coachman – all sound the same. She doesn’t attempt any regional accents, and even worse, she gives the Scottish Duke of Warnick what I can only describe as an approximation of an Irish accent. As he is the hero of the next book in the series, you can bet your life I won’t be listening if Ms Eyre is narrating. The same Irish accent comes out when we’re told briefly that Sophie has slipped into the northern accent she had before moving to London. People from Ireland do NOT sound the same as people from Scotland OR Cumbria. That’s something you can check on the internet!
I also had issues with her diction and pronunciation which really detracted from my ability to listen to the story rather than to the performance. To choose just a few examples: she has a way of pronouncing certain common letters and letter groups incorrectly and a tendency to add sounds where they don’t need to be. For instance, she pronounces the word “cravat” as “cravaHt”, “disappeared” as “disappeaHed” and “footwear” becomes “footwaah”. “Perfect” comes out as “pahhfect”, mass as “mahss” and, if you’re going to narrate historicals, for God’s sake learn how to pronounce the word “pianoforte” properly (clue – it’s not “pianofort”). But I might have coped with those things were it not for the way she makes the end of practically every sentence sound – at best – as though she’s straining somewhere at the back of her throat, and at worst as though she’s being strangled! – and the nasal tone she adopts for her male characters. Sometimes that sort of nasal drawl works for Eversley, but in the more tender moments and love scenes, it isn’t at all romantic or sexy and it made me cringe.
I confess that I haven’t listened to any performances by Ms Eyre in which she uses her own accent, and I know that she has many fans and has received good reviews for her narrations of paranormals/urban fantasy stories here at AudioGals. But when it comes to British set historicals, she’s a poor choice. There are enough good female British narrators around – Rosalyn Landor, Kate Reading, Carolyn Morris and Mary Jane Wells, to name but a few – who, even on a bad day, could have done a much better job. If Ms Eyre is engaged to narrate the rest of this series, I’ll be sticking to print.
Book Content: B
Steam Factor: Glad I had my earbuds in
Violence Rating: Minimal
Genre: Historical Romance
Publisher: Harper Audio
The Rogue Not Taken was provided to AudioGals by Harper Audio for a review.