An Italian Scandal by Cecil Cameron – an historical novel featuring a passionate and determined heroine

An Italian Scandal by Cecil Cameron

Passion, patriotism and so much more, this is a book set in the Victorian era but with many surprises. The central character, Carina Temple, is a young woman of her time in some respects, but also upsets expectations throughout most of the novel. It switches from a novel of a young woman fighting with the unwritten rules of society and reacting to restrictions in Victorian London, and goes on to action in a very different country. It is written with real suspense and passion as deeply held beliefs and principles clash with the risks of disagreeing with the status quo. It also introduces settings as varied as the homes of the very wealthy aristocracy, as well as the countryside of Italy. This novel manages to impart a real sense of drama in the details of dress, countryside and the small aspects of life featuring Carina, as well as bringing to life so much research in a completely natural way. The sense of time and place is intense, with the determined young woman who contrives to survive challenges almost beyond imaging. This is a powerful novel with fantastic characters and a strong plot, and I was so pleased to have the opportunity to read and review this memorable book.  

As the novel begins in 1859, Carina is just finishing a period of mourning for her father. As her mother died when she was born, the more recent death of her father has left her in the guardianship of her Uncle Oliver and the companionship of her Aunt Alice. The former is strict and very aware of his responsibilities to safeguard the reputation of his young charge, and he spares no effort in trying to force her to conform. Married Lord Danby has been taking advantage of her naivety, and gossip is circulating about Carina’s activities. Finally Oliver declares that he can do no more, except to exile her and Alice to Sicily. While this would mean she could at last meet her maternal family including her grandmother, Carina is horrified. A nasty experience begins to appreciate that while a man will be acceptable in society despite his behaviour, the loss of her reputation will damage her in every way. As a poet and reader of Byron, she decides to make the best of her journey and new experiences. Meeting her cousins Paulo and Gabriella introduces her to new ideas of rebellion and fighting for freedom as the young people of Sicily plan to repel the Bourbon regime. Thus she mixes social events, beautiful dresses and a ball with the underlying tensions of planned uprising. She is confronted with the inequalities of society on a daily basis, whereas she moves among a leisured and wealthy group of people. Can her attraction to the mysterious leader Ben Mavrone, first encountered by the reader in a violent Prologue, ever develop, or is the threatening atmosphere which surrounds him too much for even her to cope with?

This fast paced novel twists and turns through London society and Italian splendour, countryside and fearsome buildings. It looks at the implied motives of men who are determined either to remain in power or desperate to challenge it at any cost. Carina is a character with resources and courage, who manages to inhabit various settings with her vibrant personality and quick wit. It is a memorable novel in every good way which drew me in and compelled my interest throughout, and I recommend it to all fans of female led historical fiction.