What the Earl Needs Now
Good Earls Don’t Lie was one of my favorite books of 2016, so I jumped at the chance to get my hands on the second book in Michelle Willingham’s The Earls Next Door series, What the Earl Needs Now. This novel tells the story of what happens when Lily Thornton, sister of the preceding book’s heroine, finally gets what she has been longing for. She has long loved Matthew Larkspur, Earl of Arnsbury, in secret, and he disappeared in India not long after they secretly wed. Now the news has come that he is alive and returned to England.
Matthew’s miraculous return home isn’t the easiest miracle, though. His memories of India and the injuries received there torture him to the point that some would question whether it is even safe for Lily to be near him. However, she loves him and she refuses to give up, even when confronted with his anguish and what we would in the 21st century likely call PTSD. Lily tries to remind Matthew of what she is to him, but – at least at the beginning of the book – all seems lost.
As I read the early chapters, I found myself sinking into what appeared to be an emotional and angsty romance. Lily’s loyalty to her husband felt very real and I wanted to see how their love would win out. However, the book starts to bobble a bit as things move along and I just could not enjoy it quite as much as its predecessor.
The problem here does not lie with the characters. I liked Lily, and given Matthew’s history of capture and torture, his sleepless nights and need for solitude seem quite realistic. He has been through a terrible ordeal and I found it very believable that he would have a long road toward healing.
My issues lay more with Matthew’s backstory. We learn that he was held captive in India and tortured. However, the reason for his captivity are frustratingly vague. His tormentor – allegedly – had what sounded like some very real grievances against the British (and any historian can tell you that Indian people endured some awful things under the British Raj), but this never gets explored in any depth. As a reader, I found this unsatisfying because what could have been a real exploration of Matthew’s world that added some heft to the story instead got reduced to something of a cartoon villain.
And speaking of cartoon villains, as the story behind Matthew’s abduction starts to spool out more and more, the circumstances become far more melodramatic than they needed to be. The author has ample tension to work with considering Matthew’s long recovery and his and Lily’s rediscovery of one another, so the suspense plot that gets thrown into the book really does feel a tad superfluous.
I’m a sucker for angsty romances, and What the Earl Needs Now does have its moments. However, the handling of Matthew’s past throughout the story distracts from the romance rather than enhancing it. I generally like this author’s work, so it pains me to say it, but I can’t quite recommend this one.