Never Dare a Wicked Earl
As I’ve said in the past, I make it a point to try new authors when I can – after all, I had some pretty good luck a couple of years back when I found not one, but three début authors whose books have since become ‘must reads’, and I live in hope of finding others. Unfortunately, however, on the strength of her first novel, Never Dare a Wicked Earl, Renee Ann Miller isn’t going to make that list by a long chalk; the cover trumpets a “fresh new romance” – but it’s about as fresh as week-old kippers, and I ended up reading a story I’ve read several times before. It’s a solidly average book; not badly written, but the story is hackneyed, the characters are stereotypical and the author seems to have thought it a good ideal to throw the kitchen sink into the (very weak) plot. Plus – what on earth is the heroine wearing on the cover? The book is set in 1875, and by no stretch of the imagination is that dress from the late Victorian period. I know that’s not the author’s fault, but it nonetheless telegraphs “Danger, Will Robinson!” to the potential reader. With good reason, as it turns out.
When Hayden – a very unlikely name for a man (let alone an earl) in Victorian England – Earl of Westfield is shot in the leg by a demented ex-mistress, he is confined to bed and not at all happy about it. He runs off two male attendants by virtue of his appalling manners and threatening behaviour, so his sister, thinking he might not be quite so rude and abrasive towards a woman, engages a nurse by the name of Sophia Camden. Of course, the fact that Sophia is female makes no difference to Hayden’s dreadful behaviour, and he begins to try to get rid of her, too, adding not-so-subtle sexual innuendo to his established repertoire of bad manners and ill temper.
Naturally, Sophia is wise to his tricks, and decided to stay, especially as – and here’s where we get lip-service to the title – Hayden dares Sophia to stick it out for ten days. If she wins, he will throw his political weight behind a new bill to allow women to qualify as doctors (as this is what Sophia wants to do) and if he wins he’ll get… well, he’ll think about that tomorrow.
Okay – this is a romance, we know where things are headed and that whole wounded-rude-hero-with-a-damaged-psyche falls for well-bred-female-fallen-on-hard-times thing is one we’ve all read lots (and lots) of times before. Hayden and Sophia banter. They ogle each other. He squirms in his seat a lot, she gets warm and tingly – from pretty much the first chapter. We get it. He’s hot and she’s beautiful. How about giving them some personality outside of his constant feelings of guilt and inadequacy over the way he treated his first wife, and her insecurities because her uncle continually taunted her over her dusky, Mediterranean skin (she has Italian ancestry), calling it inferior and vulgar compared to the creamy complexion of the traditionally English rose?
To add insult to injury (!), Sophia – supposedly a strong, intelligent, professional woman who is determined to enter a profession previously dominated by men – is a mess of breathless, quivering lust and tears around Hayden and doesn’t really do anything for him that his valet or servants can’t do. She brings him his meals on a tray, his valet bathes him and she doesn’t go near a bedpan or chamber pot. Other than putting on a bandage or two, she does nothing ‘medical’ for him whatsoever. Yet she wants to become a doctor because of the oldest cliché in the book:
… everyone she’d loved had died and perhaps if she became a doctor, she could stop others from losing those most important to them…
Gimme a break.
The kitchen sink I mentioned is thrown into the second half of the book with gusto, when we are treated to ALL THE DRAMA – kidnapping, attempted rape, attempted murder – you name it, it’s in there, all courtesy of a villain whose identity is blindingly obvious from the start. There’s a heartbreaking and potentially interesting backstory to Hayden’s first marriage, but it’s little more than an obvious attempt to introduce more drama into the story and its treatment lacks subtlety.
So my search for GOOD new authors continues. I’ll let you know when I find one.