Tuesday 26 December 2017

#CBR9 Book 118: "You're the Earl That I Want" by Kelly Bowen

Page count: 400 pages
Rating: 3.5 stars

Heath Hextall has made his fortune in trade, but has inherited an earldom after a distant relative died, and now feels that it's his duty to to find a nice, well-bred and quietly competent woman to be his wife, to help him keep his life and household orderly. He asks his good friend, the Duke of Worth to help him find a suitable candidate.

Lady Josephine "Joss" Somerhall, the Duke of Worth's younger sister, is back from an extended stay abroad and while she can't really fault his choice, but is rather taken aback that Hextall is looking for a wife. She's loved Heath since she was a little girl, trailing after him and her brother, but as she's never intending to marry, and is also the exact opposite of what Heath is looking for in a wife, she will need to continue to keep her feelings hidden.

When the two are unexpectedly pulled into a mystery involving armed mercenaries, a dying Bow Street Runner, a file of encrypted documents and a possible plot by Napoleon-sympathisers to get the deposed emperor back in power, their close proximity to one another makes it very difficult for them to ignore their strong and mutual attraction.

I first discovered Kelly Bowen last year, when I read Duke of My Heart, and earlier this year I read the rest of her Season for Scandal books. I was very impressed with all three books, but this one was a let-down compared to them, possibly because the romance seemed almost secondary to the rather over the top mystery, which culminates in a truly elaborate plot, involving a huge number of people and among other things, involves blowing up a ship. Nor did I really feel I got a good impression on who the protagonists really were and it seems like Ms Bowen seemed to think that since they'd known each other since they were young, she didn't need to spend a lot of page time on establishing their romantic relationship as adults. They're wildly attracted to one another, and clearly very comfortable in each other's company, having known each other for so long. Yet Joss doesn't want to get married, because her parents' marriage was miserable and she doesn't want to be tied down. Hextall is conflicted about lusting over his best friend's sister, and feels guilty towards the woman he's nominally wooing (this part of the plot was resolved in almost too tidy a fashion - wouldn't want to think badly of our hero, after all).

It's established that even as a child, Joss was unusually precocious for a young girl and very interested in things not necessarily considered feminine. While I love a well-read heroine, there is a limit to just how much experience you can get through book learning (there didn't seem to be a thing they came across that Joss hadn't "read in a book"), and it seems like she'd been able to travel and explore the world a lot more than a young, single woman of noble birth should have been able to in early 19th Century. Even though she's clearly lived a life that would be considered rather scandalous, she's welcomed with open arms in society - and I'm not sure that would be the case, even for the sister of a wealthy duke.

If you asked me to characterise Hextall, my only mental image is "business man". It's been little over two weeks since I finished the book, and without going back and skimming parts, I don't really remember much about him, except that he's dutiful and conscientious, clearly in love with Joss long before he's able to admit it to himself and he really wants to do well by his family? Something like that. He owns a lot of ships, but has never allowed himself to travel with any of them.

As a mystery/adventure book, this wasn't so bad, but I really didn't think it delivered in the romance department, and there was a little bit too much in the "tell, don't show" in the description of Joss and how progressive and unusual she is as a heroine. If this had been my first Kelly Bowen book, I would not have been as quick to rush out and try more of her books. I certainly hope this book isn't indicative of the rest of the Lords of Worth series, of which I still have two books and a novella to read (because once I finished the last Season for Scandal book, I made sure to buy everything in her back catalogue) - all set previous to this book. It would be sad if her first series is so much weaker in plotting and characterisation than her second.

Judging a book by its cover: I'm pretty sure that an evening gown for an unmarried lady in the Regency era would be quite so low cut and daring in the back, even for a daring and unorthodox lady like Lady Josephine. If the cover model was really supposed to look like her, though, they should have made the artist give her short hair, not long tresses swept up in an updo.

Crossposted on Cannonball Read.

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