London's Most Elusive Earl
London’s Most Elusive Earl is like a house with good bones (the romance) that gets lost beneath the dizzying and repetitive wallpaper that covers every inch of every room (the writing and plot).
Jonathan Cromford, Earl of Lindsey, has inherited from his deceased father two clauses – sire a legitimate son and retrieve three missing/stolen paintings – on which hang the money that makes enjoyment of the earldom possible. Lady Caroline Nicholson has recently returned from Italy to get herself a husband. They meet at a ball when she finds him trying to get at one of the missing artworks through the vagina of the wife of one of the paintings’ new owners. Caroline feels “as if their very souls spoke to each other” and Jonathan feels “a growing problem in his trousers”. I’d been hoping that the baby clause meant a Duchess Deal sort of book involving a marriage of convenience and lots of vigorous sowing of seed, but this, alas, did not prove true. This book mostly consists of unofficial courting, which goes on so long that Caroline eventually insists on an actual DTR (defining the relationship) talk while her nipples are exposed.
I tried hard at first to find acceptable reasons why the chapters felt so indistinguishable and, consequently, stupefyingly dull (I’ve never used that adverb adjective combination before. I’d apparently been saving it for an occasion such as this). Perhaps, I reasoned, the fact that the novel was such a blur was a consequence of the period and setting. Caroline and Jonathan spend endless time engaged in aristocratic leisure activities (house parties, balls) discoursing in a stiff manner full of courtesies and pleasantries. Maybe it was the formality of the society itself to blame! Then I remembered Jane Austen. This forced me to acknowledge that it is possible for a novel about the gentry set in Regency England to be intelligent, hilarious, fast-paced, and memorable in each chapter. So there went that idea. Also, Bryant has an odd obsession with the word “soul” which is used so abundantly throughout the book that I began to track its appearance as if I were playing a strange version of Where’s Waldo, though instead of looking for a bespectacled cartoon in a striped sweater, I looked for the word describing the ephemeral part of a living being. Final soul count: thirty.
I felt about Caroline and Jonathan the way one feels about good actors in a bad movie. I sympathized that the material didn’t do them justice. They’re a good couple – Jonathan’s soul catches up with his penis and does reciprocate Caroline’s feelings believably – and I found their warm-level sex scenes to be as sexy in atmosphere as the explicitness of other hot-level novels. If you hate Big Misunderstandings, they are also a satisfying couple. The third-act drama is so small you’d need a microscope to see it.
The baby-clause of Jonathan’s inheritance is dealt with unusually, as well. Caroline has fertility concerns due to the fact that she hasn’t menstruated in years, which the story blames on a riding accident (the medical plausibility of this confused me – if you’re in the field of obstetrics and fertility and know how this works, please let me know). What’s unique about London’s Most Elusive Earl is that there is NO Baby Epilogue. At the end of the book there’s no Miracle Fertility Resolution, although, since this is a series, I wouldn’t be surprised if Caroline shows up pregnant in a future book as a secondary character.
The only way I could have recommended this book were if I held to the belief that the best things in life are those which feel the most laborious. I don’t hold to that belief.
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