Good Earls Don't Lie
Sometimes I start a book, and I just know I’m going to be enchanted. That’s how Good Earls Don’t Lie started for me. Even though the opening events feel a tad unlikely, there’s something likable about the characters and I just enjoyed the mood that Willingham creates in her story. There are a few wobbles here and there, but from the beginning, I liked Iain and I liked Rose, and I really wanted to see how their happily ever after was going to unfold.
Newly arrived from Ireland, Iain Donovan, Earl of Ashton, gets off on the wrong foot right away. After receiving an invitation from Lady Wolcroft, a close friend of the family, he has come to England to seek assistance in finding a wealthy bride to help save his estate. The potato famine has hit Ireland and Iain is desperate to keep his estate afloat and to prevent his tenants from starving. However, he finds himself stranded and half-naked following a carriage accident and subsequent robbery. He finds his way to his hostess’ home and there he encounters Lady Wolcroft’s granddaughter, Rose Thornton, reading in the garden.
Iain tries to explain his plight, but doesn’t get very far. Since he doesn’t look very aristocratic and carries neither proof of his identity nor a letter of introduction, Rose and the staff suspect that he is just a ruffian seeking to take advantage. And of course the hostess who could get him out of the mess is visiting other friends in Bath. However, Iain persists and he is eventually allowed to stay at the house, even if his accommodation is more in line with servants’ quarters than those of a guest. Undeterred, Iain tries to recover his stolen property – especially his signet ring – and manages to ingratiate himself with Rose and others in the house because, as it turns out, he’s competent, capable and truly a decent person. It helps that he is also quite useful when it comes to looking out for and protecting Rose’s mother who suffered some form of psychological collapse following the death of her husband.
As we learn at the very beginning, Rose has recently recovered from an illness that has left her muscles too weakened for her to walk. She is determined to build up her strength and to walk again and Iain tries to help her. In return, Rose tries to help Iain understand some of the finer points of living in society. As a younger son much disfavored by his mother, Iain never expected to be the earl and his mother never included him in her London travels. Iain therefore is quite knowledgeable and resourceful when it comes to running a country estate but less sure of himself in city society.
I genuinely liked Iain as a hero. At times he seems to be such a genuine good guy that I found myself wondering if he was the male version of a Mary Sue. However, he’s just awkward enough and has just enough moments of overconfidence to have become real rather than falling into the ranks of boringly perfect heroes. I also admired Rose and I could believe in these two being together. Though physically frail, Rose is proud and determined. The more I got to know her, the more I wanted to see her reach her goal of learning to walk again – and get the hero of her dreams. I also appreciated that the author provided an explanation for Rose’s health problems that made sense rather than just throwing in a heroine with an amorphous illness that exists only to make the hero look protective.
So, where’s the big conflict? Well, this story actually has conflict running all through it. After all, Iain states very frankly that he needs to marry money in order to keep his tenants from starving. Even after he starts to fall for Rose, he recognizes his duty to his estate and is determined not to shirk it. Rose is fairly comfortable financially, but hardly a major heiress. She also had a suitor in London before she fell ill and feels convinced that he will want to renew their courtship if she can only learn to walk again.
Good Earls Don’t Lie starts off very strongly, and I enjoyed it quite a bit. As I mentioned above, there are a few weak spots, primarily in the latter portion of the book. There are hints of problems with Iain coming into his earldom but that plot point never really goes anywhere and while not an expert on British law of the period, the issue gets handled in such an oddly contradictory way that I found myself wondering if the characters even had the law right. Some of the social intrigues that ensue once the characters arrive in London dragged a bit as well. However, these were minor points for me and I found this romance sweet and charming overall.