|Ever wonder what it was like for the first women engineers? What drove them to be pioneers in their profession? Did they attend classes hidden behind a heavy curtain in the manner of first women medical students? Did they depend on a masculine pseudonym or a male acolyte to conceal their identity? How did mathematically-minded mid-Victorian misses reconcile the austere logic and single-minded determination necessary to succeed in a man's world with their desires for family, home and femininity? And how different are they from those women of today who fling themselves against glass ceilings and Old Boy networks in the belief that they can plan and construct and manage as well as any man?
A Match Made in Scandal may not provide the most thorough answers to these questions, although what it does claim rings true. But by venturing into rather uncharacteristic territory for historicals, it draws on the forceful characters and strong passions that must have shaped Victorian trailblazers to offer a compelling and emotionally charged read.
Rachel Bailey and Ryan Donally have known each other since they were children. Ryan has always been a little in love with Rachel, but she didn't reciprocate his feelings. Nevertheless, when he married her best friend, she was disappointed and sought comfort in her professional aspirations. She attended the University of Edinburgh. There, she had an affair with a professor who married a debutante when Rachel was three months pregnant. She lost the baby and thereafter devoted herself to managing the Dublin offices of the joint family enterprise, Bailey & Donally. Now, four years later, she is in London to discuss financial and construction problems with Ryan.
The widowed Ryan wants to ensure his daughter will have access to the London society denied to him as an Irishman, a Roman Catholic and a powerful industrialist of common birth. He has recently been betrothed to Lady Gwyneth Devonshire, the niece of an aristocrat whose family steel mill Ryan has acquired and incorporated. Ryan also realizes that for his investments to succeed, he must dismantle Bailey & Donally and depose Rachel of her domain. She is determined to stop him.
Though pitted against each other, both must contend with their long-running attraction. When Ryan's priest brother David unites them through handfasting, an ancient Celtic custom that has almost the same legal status in Ireland as church marriage, he sanctions a one-night affair. Neither Rachel nor Ryan believe they can turn this temporary solution into a lasting relationship. They are too headstrong and too outspoken to guarantee any lasting domestic peace. They have opposing visions of the future of Donally & Bailey. Worse, if their customary marriage is acknowledged publicly or if Lord Devonshire makes Rachel's scandalous past known, Ryan may have to forsake the social recognition he seeks and abandon any plans he had for his daughter. It takes some introspection - and more than one highly sensual scene - for them to readjust their life plans.
This may sound pretty straight forward, but I couldn't follow all the intricacies of Ryan's financial acquisitions and how exactly they would effect Rachel's position at Donally & Bailey. Nor did I fully understand why he had given up on her so many years ago and why she had all but pushed him into the arms of her best friend. The characters were so compelling and their internal conflicts so intriguing that I wasn't bothered too much.
With the exception of Ryan's annoyingly quaint four-year-old daughter and the villainous villain, this is as true of the secondary characters as the main ones. I was especially taken by his priest brother, David. With his suspicious absence from the second part of the book and enough hints about his mysterious past, it sounds like there is another book about the Donallys in the making. Or could this be just another case of wishful thinking?