|In 1793, eight-year-old orphan Lily Boudine lived with her aunt, the Countess of Ashwood, at the earl's estate in Hadley Green. When the Ashwood family jewels disappear during one of the earl's lascivious annual galas, Lily's world falls apart, a man innocent of the theft is condemned because he is guilty of a different crime, and Lily is sent to Ireland to live with the Hannigans.
So begins Julia London's new Hadley Green series and its first novel, The Year of Living Scandalously. More than a dozen years later, Lily is informed that she has become the earl's heiress – making her a countess. This notion doesn't much suit Lily, who bears horrible memories of her time at Hadley Green and the man she helped send to his death (not to mention that Lily seems flighty at best and more inclined to flirt than to take up any responsibility). But this isn't Lily's story. It's the tale of her equally-as-harebrained cousin, Keira "Kiki" Hannigan. The two hatch a plan that allows Lily to continue on her merry way to Italy to rope herself a husband while sending Keira to Hadley Green to "watch over" the estate until such a time as Lily feels like returning.
This hatches a very tired mistaken-identity plot, since the cousins share a strong physical resemblance and no one in Hadley Green has spied their new countess since she was a tyke. Keira assumes the role of countess – and immediately gets caught by the earl of Donnelly, Declan O'Conner, whom she has known from childhood.
Declan, I suppose, falls under the category of rich rambler with a heart of gold. He is in the neighborhood trying to locate the perfect horse, and upon his success intends to return to Ireland to do his best to marry off his sister, whose prospects are hampered by Declan's bad name. Said reputation seems to be pretty overexaggerated, and the tale behind it is told in a manner best described as convoluted. Regardless of his intentions, he allows Keira to convince him to stay near her to help out with the mystery of the stolen jewels. Naturally, this means he has to put his two cents in at every turn, though all of his dire warnings about Keira's Irish Catholicism come to naught. Equally as naturally, the puppy love Keira had felt for Declan for much of her life rears its ugly head. Though several months pass before it is consummated, their affair even before then is, if not necessarily passionate, combative.
The mystery of the jewels and the true thief remain unanswered, though Declan and Keira research tirelessly until they discover the true fate of Lily's and Keira's Aunt Althea, the previous countess, Unlike most mistaken-identity stories, Keira's plight won't drive the reader mad, since the two primary characters (Keira and Declan) are well aware of her true identity. There is no nail-biting as the reader waits to see if this person will figure out who their heroine really is. The mystery of the jewels is intriguing, though, in this novel at least, the demise of Aunt Althea is the focal point.
To be blunt, Julia London's latest endeavor is flat. The characters are flat when they're not entirely frivolous and both the plotline and the romance are boring. The prologue is great, opening with the evening of the gala and leading through the trial that costs an innocent man his life and then to Althea's death. After that, everything is mediocre at best.