The Indifferent Earl
Miss Abigail Todd journeys from Boston to England to claim an inheritance from a mysterious relative, and she is surprised to find herself falling in love with the man society has termed The Indifferent Earl. This is Blair Bancroft’s first Signet Regency, and while it has its flaws, overall it is entertaining and worth a look.
Abigail is nearly twenty-nine and considers herself firmly on the shelf. When her fiancé died at sea years ago, she convinced her father to let her use her dowry to open a school for girls. She has spent the past seven years as headmistress, a job she finds satisfying. Still, when she learns she is the recipient of an inherited cottage from a Clarissa Bivens, she considers the opportunity to travel a grand adventure. She doesn’t intend to stay in England; after all, the war of 1812 just recently ended, and she can’t help but think of the English as the enemy.
Abigail soon discovers that the American definition of “cottage” is quite different from its British counterpart. The cottage is luxurious and staffed with servants, and it’s all hers if she can complete eight separate quests. The cottage’s caretakers have eight letters for Abigail, each with a task that she must perform. She is to be assisted by Jared Verney, Earl of Langley. She also learns that Clarissa was a notorious courtesan – and her natural grandmother. Clarissa’s cottage and its grounds were a gift from Jared’s grandfather (her longtime lover), and it is adjacent to Jared’s ancestral home. It soon becomes obvious that the quests Abigail and Jared are to carry out have an ulterior motive – matchmaking.
Abigail’s initial impression of Jared is that he is arrogant and dictatorial, and her egalitarian soul can’t help but be offended by the way he takes charge and expects deference from everyone. Jared, on the other hand, likes Abigail almost immediately. But he sees a potential match with her as inappropriate and probably impossible given their different circumstances. Jared must also run interference between Abigail and his younger brother Myles, a recent army veteran who is about as fond of Americans as Abigail is of the British. Though the match seems unlikely, Jared and Abigail find themselves drawn to each other as they complete their errands, and barriers that once looked insurmountable start to seem insignificant. Perhaps Clarissa’s attempts to match-make from the grave aren’t so ridiculous after all.
Jared and Abigail are both likable characters full of life, personality, and (thankfully) decency. Jared’s “Indifferent Earl” moniker is contrived (and obviously tailor made for the book title, since so many traditional Regencies still have titles like The Something Something) and not exactly germane to the story, but he manages to rise above it to be charming and persuasive – and just a little high-handed when he needs to be. Abigail seems to be the standard bluestocking who has lost herself in study and work. As she accomplishes the tasks her grandmother outlined for her, she finds herself changing, and it’s amazing how believable her transformation is.
One of my favorite things about this book from the outset is that the author realizes that America and England had recently been at war, and the characters actually realize it too and behave accordingly. Abigail and Myles begin the book with a measure of resentment between them, which dissipates as they get to know each other. I found their resentment realistic and refreshing, and I loved that Abigail’s attitudes really made her seem like an American. Naturally Jared manages to win her over and show her the finer points of his country, and she begins to see the English as people rather than just “the enemy.” But while her opinions change as she gets to know individual people, she keeps her American attitude. You’d never catch her wanting to marry Jared because he’s an earl.
When the book goes astray, the plot is mostly to blame. The little quests that Jared and Abigail complete are kind of cute, but they are also contrived and bordering on silly. It’s one of those “only in a romance novel” kinds of things that you just wouldn’t see in real life. Most of the missions involve delivering letters to people from Clarissa’s past, and those are okay. But there’s one task at the end that involves silly, rhyming clues that sounded like something a bunch of seven year olds might do at a birthday party.
My other quibble is really more of a taste issue. Like many Regencies, The Indifferent Earl has a sensuality rating of Kisses. Nonetheless, Jared and Abigail think about their feelings a lot. The language they use at such times is never purple – but it is sappy and a little bit clichéd. To me it didn’t quite match with the no-nonsense quality of the characters.
Occasional silliness aside, this was a book I enjoyed. Regency fans looking for something a little different (like, perhaps, an American heroine who actually has a basic knowledge of politics) will probably find it worthwhile.