Desert Isle Keeper
A Beastly Kind of Earl
When I read Mia Vincy’s début historical romance, A Wicked Kind of Husband, near the end of last year, I was impressed and utterly captivated – it made my list of Best Books of 2018. With its likeable, complex characters, witty dialogue and wonderfully perceptive writing, it stood out like a a highly-polished gemstone amid the generally poor showing made by HR last year, and I, like many fans of the genre, have been eagerly awaiting the author’s next book, hoping for more of the same. So I’m delighted to report that with A Beastly Kind of Earl, Ms. Vincy is two-for-two; this story of a young woman determined to salvage her reputation after two so-called gentlemen maliciously ruin it, and a reclusive earl carrying a whole shedload of guilt is funny, charming and deceptively insightful, featuring two wonderfully rounded protagonists, an engaging secondary cast and a beautifully developed romance that just oozes sexual tension and chemistry.
About three years before the story opens, Thea Knight, the daughter of a wealthy tradesman, is disowned and sent away to live in quiet obscurity as companion to an elderly termagant after she is labelled a “sly, scheming seductress” and accused of attempting to trap a young gentleman into marriage. With her reputation in tatters, the only people not to turn their backs on her are her sister, Helen, and her friend, Lady Arabella Larke; even Thea’s own parents – a pair of social climbers – believe the lies told about her and are adamant that her blackened name must not be allowed to ruin her sister’s marital prospects. They wash their hands of her.
But Thea is not one to be so summarily squashed. Somehow, she has retained her sense of fun and her natural optimism, and is determined to make sure that society learns the truth about Percy Russell, the son of Lord Ventnor – and to expose his lies. To this end, she has been saving money in order to have a pamphlet telling her side of the story printed and circulated throughout society, and when the story begins, hopes to soon be able to make plans for its publication. But first thing first; she has to aid Helen in her scheme to elope with the young man she loves and has been forbidden to marry… who happens to be Beau Russell, Percy’s brother and Lord Ventnor’s eldest son. Helen and Thea meet at a small coaching inn in Warwickshire in order to switch places; Thea will join a small house-party at Lady Arabella’s home while Helen and her intended make for Gretna to be married.
Rafe Landcross had no thought of inheriting the title of Earl of Luxborough, and certainly didn’t want it at the cost of the lives of his father and two elder brothers. A large, dark and dour man, he bears the scars of a Jaguar attack sustained in the forests of New Spain (part of Mexico today) and, a keen botanist, much prefers the company of his plants to society. His reclusiveness and curt, abrasive manner have led to all sorts of rumours circulating about him – including one that he murdered his wife, Lord Ventnor’s daughter.
The subject of nasty rumours herself, Thea is sure this cannot be true, but even so, has no desire to meet Luxborough – which is unfortunate as he, too, is to be a guest at the small party at Arabella’s home. Even though he rarely – if ever – leaves his estate, the earl has been tempted to do so by the prospect of obtaining some rare plant specimens being conveyed there by Lord Ventnor. But Ventnor wants a favour in return, namely that Rafe should keep Beau away from that “social-climbing seductress Helen Knight”. Having an agenda of his own, Rafe agrees to this, telling Ventnor that he will marry Helen – but he is fully aware of Thea and Helen’s scheme and has no intention of preventing the match between Helen and Beau. Instead, he will go along with the deception and marry Thea (as Helen) and gain control of the ten thousand pounds left in trust by his mother. Because Thea will marry him under a false name, she will not actually be his wife, so Rafe gets what he wants – money to continue his botanical research – doesn’t get what he doesn’t want – a wife – and Ventnor will be apoplectic with rage into the bargain. Win win.
But he’s reckoned without Thea, her vitality, her enthusiasm and optimism, which are undimmed even in the face of the unkind and unjust treatment she’s been subjected to by those who should have been her staunchest supporters. He initially believes her to be the scheming jezebel gossip says she is, but he cannot reconcile that picture with the winsome and mischievous young woman who gives back every bit as good as she gets.
“We’ve barely met and you’re not very nice.”
“True, but I am an earl.”
“Are you saying you do not find me interesting?”
“Not nearly as interesting as you find yourself.”
And Thea can’t help but be fascinated by Rafe, who is as different from the gossip about him as she is from the gossip about her. He’s gruffly charming and adorably grumpy in a way that makes her yearn to know more about the man she glimpses only briefly, one who is kind, affectionate and funny – and to know why he locks that side of himself away. His backstory is one marked by tragedy; he blames himself for his first wife’s death and genuinely grieves the father and brothers whose deaths paved his way to the earldom. The heir who inherits unexpectedly is a frequently seen character in historical romance, but this is one of the few times I can recall that character being so eaten up with grief and guilt and convinced of his own unworthiness.
A Beastly Kind of Earl could be described as one of those buttoned-up-hero-loosened-up-by-free-spirited-heroine tales, but the author has once again managed to put her own spin on a familiar and well-used trope in such a way as to come up with something refreshingly different that transcends it. The writing is clever, insightful and delightfully nimble, the dialogue sparkles with wit and humour and the author’s shrewd observations about the social conventions that constrained female behaviour are accurate and conveyed with amazing subtlety. I laughed out loud at Thea’s reaction to mansplaining:
“Oh. You’re going to educate me. Very well.”
She folded her hands and waited politely.
“You don’t sound thrilled,” he remarked.
“On the contrary, my lord. I’m always thrilled when a man wants to tell me all the important things he knows… and if I’m very lucky, you’ll explain at length how you know more about it than anyone else.”
Then this had me laughing even harder; Rafe and Thea discuss the etymology of the word ‘orchid’ – which is apparently derived from the Greek word for testicles!
“Allow me to confirm that I have understood correctly,” she said, her puzzlement overriding her nerves. “Here is this gorgeous, magnificent flower, and some man – who for unknown reasons is put in charge of naming it – he looks at this gorgeous, magnificent flower and he says ‘By George, that looks like my bollocks’. And then he says, ‘You know what the world needs now? The world needs more things named after my bollocks.’ So he names this gorgeous, magnificent flower after his bollocks and all the other men look at it and say, ‘How excellent. It is named after our bollocks.’”
His expression was unreadable as he studied her. She would not be surprised if he stalked off in disgust at her unladylike speech.
“I must admit,” he finally said, “that us men are immensely fond of our bollocks.”
This is a funny book no question, but the humour never upstages the serious situations faced by the principals or the emotional connection between them. Thea’s helplessness in the face of the determination of the men who ruined her reputation is a horrible realisation, and Rafe’s backstory, revealed gradually, is truly heartbreaking. But watching these two wronged people find each other, fall in love and realise they belong together is pure joy; and the icing on the cake is the fact that the chemistry between them is simply scorching.
If you read Ms. VIncy’s début novel, then you’ll probably need no convincing to pick this one up. But if you’re a fan of historical romance and haven’t yet read her work, then you should get on it right away! Although this is listed as the second book in the Longhope Abbey series, it works perfectly well as a standalone, and the books can be read in any order. A Beastly Kind of Earl is, without doubt, one of the best books of 2019.
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