The Earl of Her Dreams
In The Earl of Her Dreams, Anne Mallory doesn’t deliver a well-rounded historical romance. While the lead characters were likable, their characterization lacked dimension. And the mystery sub-plot is not interesting enough to make up for the tepid romance they share.
Christian Black, also known as the Earl of Canley, disguises himself as a commoner and seeks lodging at a crowded inn as part of his attempt to retrieve a friend’s misplaced diary, which is currently in the hands of an unscrupulous publisher staying at the same inn.
Christian ends up rooming with Kate Simon, a young woman who is also in disguise – in her case, a bit more dramatically, however, as a young man – but her true identity doesn’t escape his notice for long. Kate left behind an arranged marriage and is trying to reach the protection of a relative in London, but finds herself facing a tempting delay in the form of her unexpected roommate and an equally unexpected snowstorm.
The two quickly find themselves in the middle of a mystery when one of the inn’s guests is found dead. The murder victim had ties to the innkeepers and several guests, but was also unpopular enough that there are numerous suspects. Christian seizes the opportunity and announces himself as a Bow Street Runner with the authority to investigate and examine everyone’s rooms – which not so coincidentally helps him in his secret search for his friend’s diary.
Christian naturally tries to seduce Kate while solving the mystery, but, unfortunately, the romance simmers on the back burner as they play detective. Their relationship doesn’t develop consistently or with much heat. Both Christian and Kate seem very nice, but we only get the barest hints of who they are and it’s too difficult to connect to them.
The lead characters become engrossed in trying to figure out who the killer is, but it’s a pity I was unable to share their enthusiasm. Pages of dialogue are devoted to the elimination of suspects and figuring out how the murder happened. Unfortunately, I was looking for more than a game of Clue and that’s all this really is. (The book even opens with a three-page map of the inn’s layout you can use to visualize how the murder took place.) Kate and Christian analyze random pieces of evidence and eliminate suspects who are indistinguishable from each other. The mystery is never emotionally involving or affecting because not only was the victim unlikable, the secondary characters are also very thin.
Several potentially intriguing subplots – Kate disguising herself as a man, Kate’s insecurities regarding a personal disfigurement – are introduced, but then sputter out. Yet another subplot that might have been compelling is Christian’s personal conflict with his father which is mentioned early on, but then is not really an issue for the majority of the book. It’s a shame because these subplots caught my interest, but none were developed consistently throughout.
I was disappointed, because I felt this book had the potential to be a more fulfilling read than it was. But on top of everything else, a rash of improbable twists and melodramatic villainy near the end really killed my enjoyment. There was a bit too much of everything except romance.