Monday, 12 November 2018

#CBR10 Book 96: "Last Night with the Earl" by Kelly Bowen

Page count: 368 pages
Rating: 3.5 stars

Eli Dawes, the current Earl of Rivers, has been presumed dead for several years after Waterloo. Before he defied his father's wishes and went off to war, he was a handsome, popular and carefree nobleman; now he's got all manner of scars, both physical and emotional, as well as a healthy helping of guilt for never letting his father know he survived the war. He returns to England for reasons (I don't remember, it's been like a month since I finished this), but instead of going to London, he returns to the country house in Dover, where he plans to hide away and deal with his inheritance.

Eli doesn't realise that his father rented out the property to Haverhall School for Young Ladies, and that as a result, the house is full of inquisitive young ladies, as well as their teachers, one of whom is Miss Rose Hayward, who is quite surprised to find him sneaking in a window in the dead of night. Rose and Eli have a past, and in Rose's mind, Eli is the callous rake who disappeared along with her fiancee, destroying her reputation and humiliating her and many other of London's young ladies. Now Rose is a sought-after, but very reclusive portrait painter. She doesn't go out in Society anymore, and believed Eli died, like her faithless fiancee, on the battlefield.

Eli takes his responsibilities seriously, and while he's reluctant to rejoin society, he wants to do good with his inheritance (among other things, open a charitable foundation to take care of soldiers' families). While Rose is initially reluctant to spend time with him,  they can't seem to stay away from one another, and Rose discovers that Eli had absolutely no idea what his former best friend did before he ran off to join the army. He eventually confesses his long-held feelings for Rose, who may in fact return them - but she can never be the wife the Earl of Rivers needs. Rose has scars of her own, they're just a lot less visible than Eli's.

I came to have very high expectations of Kelly Bowen after really enjoying every single book in her Seasons for Scandal series. In this new one, The Devils of Dover, the books are entertaining enough, but not really very memorable. I read this a month ago, and barely remember the finer details of the plot or the central romance. In contrast, I can still remember most of the plots of her previous trilogy, so something is clearly just not there in the same way for me with these books.

I don't think it helped that Eli, the scarred war hero wanting to hide away from the world, kept reminding me a lot of the Duke of Ashbury, in Tessa Dare's much more memorable and enjoyable The Duchess Deal. This was a perfectly fine book while I was reading it, with cameo appearances by several people already introduced in A Duke in the Night. In this, there is no disappointing subplot with a weak antagonist (if there is an actual antagonist, it's Rose's dead fiancee, whose past actions have driven a wedge in Eli and Rose's earlier friendship), bu there isn't really any grand passion here either.

While this book was perfectly fine while I read it, it's one of those romances that just doesn't stick much in my mind. There's nothing too objectionable about it, but nothing to make me want to re-read it either. I am looking forward to book three, where Rose and Clara's brother has apparently been running a smuggling ring as well as being a doctor, but really hope it's better than the first two in this series.

Judging a book by its cover: While half of the cover model's face is in shadow here, it does not look as if his face is terribly scarred and disfigured from the war. From what you can see, if you squint, this guy has a perfectly normal face. Same with his arms and chest - no serious scarring there. If one of the major points of the book is that the hero is scarred from the war, maybe choose a different cover image? Or have, I don't know, a female cover model, to represent the heroine?

Crossposted on Cannonball Read.

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