The Return of the Earl
The author of The Return of the Earl was once told, “You’ll never be able to compete with native speakers of English.” This is the first romance I have read by Sandra Schwab and not only can she compete, but her use of language is superior to the majority of romantic novels I have read by so called ‘native speakers’. In fact, it’s the language that made this story so enjoyable.
In the Prologue, we learn that the Earl of Stanbury is returning to Harrowcot Hall after an absence of thirteen years. It is the middle of a harsh winter but the servants are joyous about his return following the old Earl’s death some years before. One man, Bryn, has many emotions about the new Earl’s return, as they had been lovers and the banishment of the then nineteen-year-old Viscount Conway – Con – was connected to their friendship turned secret love affair.
Con’s life with his cruel and intolerant father had been a miserable one. Then the stable-master’s young son was charged with teaching the five-year-old viscount to ride, and a hero worship for the gentle stable lad became friendship and then the love that saved him.
However, the 7th Earl of Stanbury is not the love-struck youth who left. He is accompanied by his friend and secretary, Ross, but he is a bitter man who hates the Hall and estate that had been his family home. He hopes to take care of business and leave as quickly as possible, but memories assail him from all sides and despite a warm welcome from all he is rude and surly. The final straw for Con is the discovery that his old stable master has retired and the stable master everyone refers to in such glowing terms is, in fact, Bryn.
When the winter weather ruins Con’s plans for a quick getaway, recollections, traditions and betrayal have to be faced and borne before a stalwart love can save the Earl from himself.
This is a perfect example of an historical genre romance, which is not something I am usually very keen on. The plot is about two men who are obviously meant to be together, but there is misunderstanding, hurt and betrayal to be overcome before they can achieve their happy ending.
What elevates this novel is, ironically considering my opening lines, the language and the research that have gone into the accurate portrayal of the Regency era and the traditions of the times.
Where one might describe the glories of the ancestral hall, the author reflects Con’s mood by describing the place as:
…like a malevolent spider, it nestled in a shallow valley in the middle of these landscaped grounds…
The carriage passes,
…the fake ruins of a fake chapel…The bleakness of those gray ruins and the skeleton-like trees surrounding them seemed quite apropos to Con.
I liked the idea of a gangly, innocent young man in love who is changed and emotionally frozen by a betrayal then returning as a man who, during his absence, has earned the soubriquet of the Ice Prince.
The man is frozen, the landscape is frozen – both waiting for love and warmth to bring them back to life.
I was wavering over my rating until I read the author’s note. Here, she writes about the real inspiration for Harrowcot Hall and the origins of the songs and Christmas traditions in the novel. I found the whole of it fascinating and it cemented the ‘plus’ in my rating.
A must for lovers of Regency genre romance.