I picked up Surrender to the Earl because of its heroine. Audrey Blake lost her sight as a child due to scarlet fever, and when I started the book I figured she wouldn’t be miraculously getting it back. Hoping this would make for an interesting plotline, I eagerly dove in…and discovered that although injuries and the like can add a dimension to good stories, they do little for mediocre ones. Unfortunately.
Audrey Blake is a blind widow whose family has essentially trapped her within her own home. Although she has free reign of the house and grounds, she cannot leave the estate. Most neighbors think her infirm, although in reality Audrey’s family has just hidden her away from society. She desperately wants be independent and move to the manor she inherited upon her husband’s death, but her controlling father won’t allow it.
Enter Robert Henslow, Earl of Knightsbridge, who is recently home from the war and feels he owes Audrey a debt. Two years ago his orders managed to get her husband killed, and his guilt has compelled him to seek Audrey out. After witnessing the situation in her household, he offers his help, but on one condition: they must pretend to be engaged.
Why? That’s the only good excuse Robert can think of that would get Audrey out of the house. There is no secret plan to turn the fake engagement into a real one — Audrey and Robert don’t see each other that way. They depart for the manor as friends, and remain as such while Audrey adjusts to her new life as an independent woman.
At first I enjoyed the somewhat slow pace of the story. Audrey and Robert didn’t have the instant, fiery chemistry of some couples, but I figured they’d grow into it. Audrey’s first husband married her for her dowry and then left her for the army, so it seemed natural that she’d distrust Robert for a while. I also enjoyed seeing her push herself to be more independent — without her sight she could easily have withered, rather than trying to assert herself as she did. So what if that fight for independence meant she was constantly pushing Robert away? It was only the beginning of the book — Audrey and Robert still had a long way to go.
Two hundred pages later I realized Audrey and Robert weren’t going anywhere.
Neither one of them was a bad character. In fact, I quite enjoyed Audrey in particular. Due to her blindness, she often wouldn’t pick up on certain social cues — shifty eyes, frowns, gazes of admiration, etc. I loved that the author brought this up, because it made Audrey more realistic. Sure, she also thought she could memorize the layout of an entire house in less than a week, but overall she was drawn fairly accurately, as was Robert.
No, the thing that bothered me was their relationship. It seemed that Audrey and Robert were friendly acquaintances for most of the book, until Robert abruptly decided he loved her, lusted after her, and wanted to marry her. Real couples talk more; they laugh and cry together. I wanted to see them grow closer, to watch them become a couple as they got to know each other, but that’s not how this book worked. Instead I got an abrupt transition — one day they’re just casual acquaintances, the next day they’re lovers.
So…lesson learned. I enjoyed the different perspective I got, looking out of Audrey’s unseeing eyes, but that didn’t turn this book into a DIK. One interesting character or plot device cannot make up for a mediocre storyline.
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