An Earl Like No Other
This is the first book I’ve read by this author, and I feel compelled to explain up front that in spite of the middling rating, I actually enjoyed it very much. The novel tells the story of a man struggling to make a go of an unexpected inheritance, and a widow who is trying to protect her young son from his harsh and dictorial grandfather.
Jeremy Chilton, the third son of the Earl of Kenrick, has spent the past decade living with a tribe of Arapaho Indians in America, and is content with his life. He enjoys the freedom and the company of his four-year-old daughter, Cassandra – or Little Willow, as she prefers to be known. But all that is about to change, as he discovers that both his elder brothers have been killed in an accident, and that his father died shortly afterwards. He had never intended to return to England, but he now realises he has no alternative. While he is not overjoyed at the idea of taking up his place among the British nobility, he’s an honourable man and feels a strong sense of responsibility toward the tenants and farmers on the Kenrick estate.
One year later, Lady Katherine Gardiner has fled the home of the Duke of Wynstan with her young son Ned, who, following the death of her husband, is now the duke’s heir. Thinking that it would be a good idea for Ned to grow up on the estate he will one day own, Kate took Ned to his grandfather, only to discover that the old man planned to impose a very harsh regime upon the boy and to treat him cruelly. Mother and son were virtual prisoners until she managed to find a way for them to escape.
Arrived in London, she presents herself to Mr. Phillips, who, as well as being the family solicitor was a friend of her late husband’s. Kate’s family cast her off when she married a penniless younger son, and she has no one else to turn to. Phillips is also the solicitor for the recently returned Earl of Kenrick, and thinks he might be able to do both Kate and Kenrick a favour. Kenrick’s estate is in Yorkshire, miles from Wynstan’s Devonshire estate, and he has only recently applied to Phillips for help in engaging a suitable housekeeper. His father and brothers never spent any time or money on the estate with the effect that things are in a very poor way. Jeremy believes it is possible to turn things around, but not without a massive effort and lots of hard work on his part, so he spends all his time working on the land or drawing up plans for improvements and has no time to devote to the management of his household. Kate readily agrees to the plan, although she begs Phillips not to disclose the truth of her situation to the earl, and travels to Yorkshire as plain Mrs. Katherine Arthur.
I became quickly caught up in Jeremy’s battle to save his estate, not only for himself, but for all his dependents. Like so many aristocrats of the time, he is land-rich, but cash-poor, and until he learns of the outcome of some of the investments he has made in certain trading endeavours, he is operating on money from mortgages and other loans. To add to those worries, he is concerned that his daughter has lost her sparkle and become quiet and withdrawn, and he also has to contend with the fact that his neighbour and sole creditor, Sir Eldridge Mortimer, is trying to blackmail him into marrying his daughter.
Kate and Jeremy are likeable, well-adjusted characters with no wagons of emotional baggage or dark and tortured souls. Kate is an efficient housekeeper, although Jeremy begins to have his suspicions that she is not quite who she seems to be, suspicions which are further increased when his younger brother comes to visit and reveals that he had known Kate in Spain and Portugal when she’d followed the drum.
I said at the beginning of this review that I enjoyed the book more than my rating would seem to indicate. The reason for that grade is that the romance is rather under-developed. Kate and Jeremy are obviously attracted to each other, but their relationship is very low-key, and I would have liked a little more of a spark between them. I like that Kate is no simpering miss, and is honest with herself about her feelings for her employer, but her “I’m in love with him!” moment comes rather out of the blue, as does his. On the positive side, they’re clearly comfortable together, and the fact that their children are playmates brings them together both physically and emotionally, providing a sound basis for their relationship. I just didn’t buy that they were passionately in love with each other.
My other main criticism is that the ending drags on a bit. It’s difficult to explain fully without spoilers, so I’ll just say that it’s somewhat anticlimactic given previous events, and things should have been wrapped up a chapter or so earlier.
Those issues apart, An Earl Like No Other is a good, solid read, and the author certainly tells an enjoyable story. The romance could have been played a little more strongly, but if you’re not expecting a steamy romance, and want an engaging story featuring decent, un-emotionally scarred protagonists facing realistic situations, then with those caveats in mind, I’d certainly recommend it.