So, I've now read the most famous of modern historical romances. I wasn't expecting much; historical romances keep disappointing me again and again, and I wasn't much impressed by this author's other book I read, The Devil's Delilah. But to my surprise, Lord of Scoundrels worked magically.
There are hundreds, if not thousands, of romance heroes with a similar sort of backstory to Sebastian, Lord Dain -- neglected in childhood, feeling unlovable, their unhappiness coming out as all sorts of negative behavior. Loretta Chase must be some sort of subtle alchemist to make me actually sympathize greatly with this particular guy, because reasons for jerk behavior usually cut no ice with me. Not only do people have to take responsibility for their actions no matter why, but a more important problem is that in romance novels (especially historicals) there's an unhealthy code of masculinity in effect which constrains heroes to few, very negative, ways of dealing with their own suffering, and actually codes this bad behavior as making a man more desirable because it's proof that he's manly. This code is certainly in evidence in Lord of Scoundrels; I may have to read the book a few more times before I figure out why it nonetheless didn't offend.
Furthermore, I cheered just as much for the other main character, the breathtakingly audacious Jessica Trent. Challenges only drive her to inventive action that pays off. Sebastian can never get the better of her; some people say that shooting him was going too far, and I would normally agree, but again it works and I can't analyze why. Her boldness is balanced by her best characteristic, the ability to see something good in everyone, also often unexpected. This is one very rare romance where the woman is the dominant personality in the couple, and I like that very much.
Naturally it's not a perfect book, given a smidge of gratuitous homophobia, for example, and the inevitable classism of automatically setting historicals among the nobility. Nonetheless, vivid, action-filled, inventive, emotional, and an amazing accomplishment.