Brave New Earl
In Brave New Earl, the kick off to a new series, Jane Ashford introduces us to Benjamin Romilly, the Earl of Furness, and Miss Jean Saunders. Benjamin is a widower who has reacted to his wife’s death by cutting himself off entirely from others – definitely emotionally and very nearly physically. This would be fine, perhaps, except that he has a young son, Geoffrey. The boy is a massive point of concern for Jean, as Benjamin’s dead wife was her cousin. After hearing about the neglect happening in the Earl’s home, Jean decides to head there and take Geoffrey away. Of course, things are more complicated than she assumes, and before they know it, Benjamin and Jean are heading towards a happily ever after.
When Benjamin’s wife died in childbirth five years before the start of our story, Benjamin essentially died as well. While he continued to perform the duties of an earl and pay people to maintain his household, he became a ghost in most other ways. This includes the raising of his son, which he has left entirely in the hands of others. Seeing Geoffrey is too painful for him and so he simply chooses not to. When we meet them both, Geoffrey is unruly and a creature of chaos, which most modern readers will identify immediately as a symptom of neglect and a desperate cry for affection, boundaries, and attention.
Enter Jean. She’s heard tell that her dead cousin’s child was being left to his own devices instead of actually being raised, so she decides to pack her bags and go to see for herself. Her plan is to evaluate the situation and then remove Geoffrey if necessary. She is firm in this plan, which she forms with nothing but second-hand knowledge, so you can imagine how smoothly it goes. And given this story takes place at some point in the nineteenth century, she’s doomed to failure anyway as children at that time were legally their father’s property and no way would she have been able to take the boy away without his father’s permission.
This book is… messy. From the start, I had an eyebrow raised to the idea that a woman of Jean’s socioeconomic class would move into the home of a widower without a chaperone or even a lady’s maid, and that issue is never addressed, much less resolved. Beyond that odd conceit, the story never really settles. There are lots of events which only seem to happen because the plot needs them to, the PoV switches to secondary characters far too often for me to know what was happening, and I have no idea as to the time period in which the story takes place. My notes read ‘this is sometime between the American Revolution and the Industrial one and more specific than that is anyone’s guess.’ I am not really a stickler for period accuracy – I have no idea what fashions go when – but even I could tell this book had no idea when it was set.
Also, while Geoffrey’s misbehavior is completely understandable, it’s also annoying. I don’t really want to spend time with a brat, even one who comes by it because his father is an idiot, and so the first few hundred pages that are spent reforming the boy felt like a sloooooooggggg. Additionally, I could not get a read on Jean, and Benjamin came across frequently as a mope and so rooting for their HEA was not high on my list.
All in all, I have no idea who this novel is aimed at. Fans of historical romance tend to read more closely than this book thinks they will and I imagine most will also have the same problems I did with placing the period. Beyond that, it just wasn’t an enjoyable time. I wish I could report differently, dear reader, but I cannot.