Emile, the eponymous scoundrel of the title and the nephew of the Dowager Countess for whom Sophie de Courcy is companion, would normally have an enormous number of options compared to Sophie herself about his ‘life choices’; as a eighteenth century aristocrat, he might have to marry for position, but that would not exactly fetter his amourous activities. let alone any profession he wished to follow apart from that of landowner.
Here he is unlucky, as the Revolution breaks out, and his life is irrevocably changed; he rushes home to attempt to persuade his arrogant father Armand Dubois to safeguard his younger siblings, but Armand refuses to see that this ‘restiveness’ of the peasants is something new.
When the Dubois family Chateau in Provence is razed (killing two of his siblings in a grim scene for a generally comic book) Emile and his brave if frequently impossible valet Georges escape with his sister Charlotte.
Driven north, they manage to get her out of the country, but Emile cannot leave France himself, for his parents, having become embroiled in counter-revolutionary activity, have been arrested and await trial in Paris.
Emile goes back to Paris, accompanied by the dogged Georges. Here, they get involved in a squalid fight in a cafe, and this leads to a career opportunity (of sorts!) for Emile as he lies low; that of one of a gang who act as a sort of eighteenth century protection racket for locals – a gang led by one Marcel Sly Boots (the favourite fighting trick which gives Marcel his name has ramifications for the unravelling of the plot). He becomes Gilles Long Legs, whose life style as he avoids conscription and arrest is a world away from that of Armand Dubois’ son and heir.
Georges becomes leader of a rival group…
Both are natural scoundrels; to some extent, it suits their natures. Besides, Emile is not exactly in a normal state of mind; his feelings have been frozen by his traumatic losses. Meanwhile, he schemes to engineer his parents’ escape and leads a life of squalid violence.
Until one day, he meets a lost innocent English girl called Sophie de Courcy…and those frozen emotions melt…