The Earl's Prize
While the rakish earl and the proper-but-not-boring lady are not new characters of the Regency, Nicola Cornick draws them well in this delightful story. The characters are certainly familiar, but they and their story are far from being dull or ordinary.
Amy Bainbridge, the daughter of a gambler, is “on the shelf” and living in genteel poverty in London. Her family lacked the money for a proper London season and the scandal of her father’s suicide would have kept her out of polite society during her debutante years even had the funds been available. As a result, Amy now spends her time under the oppressive thumb of her mother, a woman determined to allow her brother to live as a gentleman even if mother and daughter must go without new clothing, entertainment, and even adequate food.
Into this dreary existence steps her brother’s friend Joss Tallant, Earl of Tallant, a man reputed to be one of the most dangerous rakes in London and a gambler of such recklessness that he nearly brought down his entire family. An avowed opponent of gambling, Amy wants nothing to do with Joss. However, their paths keep crossing – most fatefully at a lottery draw.
Amy goes to the drawing in an attempt to find her brother, whom she believes has lost his ticket. While there, she learns that she holds the winning number – and her own ticket out of poverty. Loathe to claim a prize that is not her own, Amy is persuaded by her family to do so, thus beginnning the Bainbridges’ re-entry into Society. There, Amy finds herself to be at the center of Joss Tallant’s attention and, more surprisingly, she finds herself disliking his company less than she supposed.
For the most part, Joss and Amy are both appealing characters. Each fits into a type frequently seen in Regency settings (rakes and proper spinsters), but they are not cardboard cutouts. Their interactions seem genuine – never forced or stilted – and their opinions on gambling, lotteries, family, and friends are interesting and fun to read. Both seemed like the sort of people one would like to meet in real life.
While some of the plot devices are far-fetched, the story is so well-written and entertaining that I found myself actually wanting to suspend disbelief and be drawn into it. My only complaint with the book was with Joss: It would not be a spoiler to point out that he is a womanizer. The way in which this aspect of his character is developed will leave many wondering about just how genuine his love for Amy might be. I wanted to believe in him, but this part of his character made it a touch difficult.
However, even with the rakish hero, The Earl’s Prize is a delight to read. The hero and heroine are mostly likable, and the supporting cast is well-drawn, even if slightly over-the-top. Cornick’s rendering of Regency England is a world in which it would be very easy to while away an afternoon. Fans of either traditional Regencies or Regency-set historicals Regency romance or Regency-set historicals will probably enjoy the experience.