My Wicked Earl
After a somewhat shaky start, My Wicked Earl evolved into a pretty strong romance, interspersed with a few “so what?” moments. Setting and character echo this pattern. The setting is Regency period, but the author thankfully leaves out many of the hoary staples and instead concentrates on the protagonists. The protagonists are introduced as an irascible lord and his feisty, intelligent counterpart, who become infinitely more interesting as the story progresses, though they still make the occasional unfortunate lapse into trite responses.
The shaky start comes when Hollie Finch is brought to the home of Charles Stirling, Earl of Everingham, in chains. The Earl is heading a commission that is investigating events leading to the massacre at St. Peter’s Fields, known as Peterloo. The Earl’s work has been hampered by the scathing editorials and broadsides produced by the mysterious Captain Spindleshanks and he’s determined to catch the perpetrator. His search has led him to Hollie, owner and operator of the Tupenny Press.
The reasons for the first meeting of the hero and heroine are not what make this a bad beginning. It’s the internal dialogue that made me wince. Charles sees Hollie and he’s not just surprised that she’s a woman, his thoughts are on “this study in brazen grace and white-hot defiance…clouds of hair that grabbed the gold out of the lamplight…this pagan offering…this goddess gowned for bed, scented for deepest pleasure with flowers and pale moonlight.” They don’t stop there and he spends much of the second chapter rhapsodizing about her being “scented with sunshine.” Hollie has a few purple thoughts of her own having to do with his smelling of “brandy and lime and leather” and his “compellingly spicy scent.”
Once the author gets past some of these more purple moments and settles in to tell the story, I began to enjoy it. The Earl’s preconceptions about who Captain Spindleshanks is allow Hollie to deceive him about her own role. She convinces him that she’s married to the man who is publishing the seditious materials. Charles places her under house arrest in hopes of drawing her husband out of hiding. This plot point, while a little thin, actually propels the book to an involving study of a realistic relationship. The hero and heroine are forced to get to know each other, which is the strength of the book. It provides a refreshing change after a string of books where the protagonists know each other for a day, have lustful thoughts for a few more days, then know they’re in love.
The curves thrown in the lovers’ way contribute to the unevenness of the storytelling. Charles has a son who’s instantly adored by Hollie and avoided by Charles. So what? It didn’t do anything for the story and could have been lifted from any number of other books. Contrast that with the reasons for Charles’ more tortured moments and you’ll realize that the author does have very original ideas. His problem isn’t your standard “my father was cold and my mother was a slut” subplot that haunts this genre.
Because the plot forces the hero and heroine to deal with each other, the book could almost be described as a cabin romance. It makes for a refreshing change. They spend time together in the same rooms, talking to one another and exploring each other’s thoughts and ideas. There’s neither an evil mistress nor a wealthy ice-princess, no buddies who’ve formed a longstanding club with the intention of never marrying, and no villainous nobleman out to snatch Hollie. The threats to the relationship come from who these two people are, not who everyone else is in relation to them. Nice.
Unfortunately the book ends on one of those less compelling notes. When Charles finds out Hollie’s secrets, his feelings and her reactions are tacked on in lackluster fashion. It’s almost as though the author didn’t care anymore and the characters seem to echo that feeling. Ultimately, the strengths do outweigh the weaknesses, but those faults will distract some readers.