Sunday 25 October 2015

#CBR7 Book 107: "Forever Your Earl" by Eva Leigh

Page count: 384 pages
Rating: 4 stars

Daniel Balfour, Earl of Ashford, marches into the offices of the Hawk's Eye, demanding to speak to the owner. He is surprised when he discovers that E. Hawke is not a man, as he was expecting, but a comely young woman named Eleanor. She owns, edits and is the head writer of the gossip paper, and the nighttime pursuits of the Earl of Ashford is one of the most popular topics the paper covers. Daniel proposes to take Eleanor along with him while he goes about his scandalous and rakish adventures, giving her paper exclusive access. Eleanor is suspicious to his motives, but can't look a gift horse such as this in the mouth, and agrees to the bargain.

Ashford proposes the deal as a diversion. His best friend, traumatised after his return from the Napoleonic wars, has gone missing without a trace and his family are frantically looking for him. Were the press to discover the disappearance, the reputation of not only Ashford's friend, but his younger sister, would be ruined irreparably. He hopes that by feeding the scandal papers with news about is own dissolute nocturnal exploits, no one will look too closely at what he does during the day. 

Of course, Ashford had not expected that the journalist following him around would be a beautiful woman, and even in men's clothing, she's extremely distracting. His attraction to her isn't solely based on the physical, either. Discovering that she single-handedly bought the newspaper, aided only by funding and loans from friends, not supported by any male relatives and that she runs it without assistance from anyone fills him with admiration and respect. Eleanor rebuffs his advances, however, knowing full well that any dalliance between a commoner and a peer of the realm never has any realistic future, and can only result in heartache for her in the end.

Eva Leigh is the pen name of Zoë Archer, who is known for her entertaining paranormal/Steampunk historical romances. Her new series, the Wicked Quills of London, is straight up Regency historicals, hence the new name. I've read a few of Ms. Archer's book before, but was especially impressed with this book, because of the constant acknowledgement in the story that Ashford and Eleanor are from completely different worlds. Their social classes are miles apart. Daniel is an earl and Eleanor isn't even the daughter of a gentleman or a rich merchant. She was raised among theatre people and has made her own way in the world.

Ashford's godfather, who is very eager for his godson to settle down and start producing heirs, is appalled when he discovers that Daniel has begun an assignation with a perfectly common woman. There are examples given of other "love matches" crossing the class difference where the couple are now shunned by everyone in polite society. The more time Ashford spends with Eleanor, and sees what she's achieved, the more guilty he feels about the dissolute and indolent life he has been leading and decides he wants change. It doesn't take him that long to discover that he wants Eleanor as his wife, no matter what the rest of his peers think of such a decision.

It was also refreshing that the book shows that the aftermath of soldiers returning from the war was not always easy. Regency Romancelandia is full of noble heroes just returned from the war (probably far more than actually fought in the war in reality) , and while some may have a dashing scar or two, most romances don't want to deal with a hero with seriously crippling PTSD. As his father's only heir, Daniel wanted to join the army, but was prevented because of his responsibilities to his title and the estates, but his friend, a second son valiantly fought, and returned, not changed so much physically, as mentally. Neither Daniel nor his family realised the extent to his significant trauma before he "fell in with a bad crowd" and disappeared completely. Ashford feels that he should have seen and helped his friend and now can't rest until he has found him and restored him to the safety of his family, before the scandal rags catch wind of the story.

Eleanor is a nicely pragmatic heroine, whose parents weren't exactly the most reliable, but with the support network of friends and found family has managed just fine. She's not a virgin and while she's not in any way lived promiscuously, she enjoys sex and hasn't only had lousy previous experiences. Daniel, in the true fashion of romance heroes, isn't actually as rakish as his reputation makes him seem, and mostly treats women with kindness and respect. Based on his physical description in the book, I mentally cast him as Henry (Oh my God, He's so Good-Looking) Cavill, possibly because I read the book right after having seen The Man from U.N.C.L.E in the cinema. It certainly didn't detract from his appeal.

The next book in the series is being released at the end of October, featuring Maggie, Eleanor's best friend, who is a playwright at a theatre, and Ashford's friend, the much more dissolute Viscount Marwood. I suspect there is heartbreak and disappointment in Maggie's past, based on her dire warnings toward Eleanor in her dealings with Ashford in this book. I'm looking forward to seeing how her romance unfolds.

Crossposted on Cannonball Read.

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