I Kissed An Earl
by Julie Anne Long, historical (2010)
Avon, $7.99, ISBN 978-0-06-188566-2
I am this close to calling it a day and resigning my fan club membership when Julie Anne Long expertly reels me back in and makes me drool with this elegant trap called I Kissed An Earl. The sound you hear is that of enraged readers setting up a bonfire for heroine Violet Redmond because she dares to comport herself as a belle of the Ton and looks down on our hero for being a brute, never mind that she mellows and grows up as the story progresses, but who cares about those readers, eh? If you know your tastes are in sync with mine, I have a good feeling that you will love this book too, so pull up your seat and listen closely.
Violet Redmond is a bored young lady. She's rich and she's beautiful, a combination that makes her a dangerous young lady, especially when the young lady in question is clearly seeking pleasant diversions to amuse herself. This is what Captain Asher Flint, a privateer recently given the title of the Earl of Ardmay by King George IV, believes when he first sees Violet. He tries to steer clear of Violet, but he is stunned when he spots her brother and realizes that the man is a dead ringer for the pirate Flint is pursuing. You see, Flint needs to capture the pirate Le Chat because his title is a white elephant. Unless he also gets his hands on the reward offered for Le Chat's capture, Flint can go bankrupt trying to maintain the farmlands and properties that come with the title. Flint yearns to settle down and start a family, and the wealth and estates that come with the title will be most useful in the process. Also, he blames Le Chat for the death of his mentor, and therefore, he has a score to settle with that man.
Violet knows - like everyone else in the Ton - that Flint is an American-raised English captain who is seeking the dreaded pirate Le Chat. It is only when Flint starts paying attention to her brother Jonathan and asking her questions about him that Violet begins putting together the pieces and becomes chilled by the picture that forms. Her eldest brother, Lyon, vanished abruptly a year or so ago - at about the same time that Le Chat began making his appearance. Lyon left because their father was an ass and also because Lyon had his heart broken by Olivia Eversea, the Capulet to his Montague. When Violet learns that Le Chat ("Big Cat") has a ship called The Olivia, she can only conclude that Lyon - lion, the big cat, who resembles her brother Jonathan considerably - is the man Flint is looking for.
Violet knows that she can handle men, however, so she bribes herself into Flint's The Fortuna. When he discovers her onboard, she offers herself as bait for him to lure her brother out. They both know that she has no intention of standing by and letting Flint drag Lyon to the gallows, both she won't budge and he doesn't know whether to throw her overboard or to do... things... to her that he may regret later. And so the story begins.
The premise is not the most believable and indeed, I have to suspend my disbelief considerably as I turn the pages. However, it is so easy to lose myself into the story and forget the implausibilities because there is something truly wonderful to read happening between Violet and Flint.
He enjoyed it, that is, until it became clear that he was losing.
Flint had played chess with rajas and rogues, with a range of obsessively skilled scholars of the game. He was clever, he was thoughtful, he was resourceful, he was ruthless and inventive, and he brought all his best qualities to bear on the chessboard. It made him a very, very good player.
She was better.
When this dawned inexorably upon him, he suffered greatly... inwardly. Up welled a sense of outrage he tampered with some difficulty, but which stirred immediately with her next very clever, deliberate move. He suffered a veritable in-out tide of pride and outrage.
It was supplanted at last with dark amusement. A bead of sweat trickled down on the back of his neck, traveling down the road of his spine. My pride dissolving, he thought, sardonically.
She was steering him skillfully to the conclusion she wanted.
As she had, in a way, all evening, he realized suddenly.
I'll be damned.
Violet pulls a few unbelievably stupid stunts here, but I can give those moments a pass because it's evident that she's out of her depths in this story. She is a sheltered lady of privilege, who knows nothing of life at sea or the darker side of life until she embarks on this voyage with Flint. But she is, as Flint realizes, resourceful and cunning. She is loyal to the ones she loves, which sees her getting into this mess, but she also does a great job holding her own once she has adapted to a situation. I also adore Violet's personality. She's feisty in a good way - she doesn't let anyone cow her, not even dreaded pirate captains, and I have to stand up and cheer in that crowning moment of glory when she... well, read pages 308-309 if you want to know which scene I am referring to here. That is such a fabulous scene that I feel like smoking a cigarette after reading that scene. And I don't even smoke.
Flint is a ruthless captain, but heh, he has found his match in Violet. It's adorable to follow how he tries to shake off Violet at first only to eventually realize that she has gotten under his skin so much that he no longer knows which way is up. He is an obvious man of authority and he has his alpha male moments, but when it comes to Violet, their relationship is played on equal ground, like the chess game. Sometimes he gets the last word, sometimes she gets it, and they both secretly enjoy playing the game no matter what the outcome is. Their romance is my favorite kind - one full of humor and sexual tension, with both the hero and heroine giving as good as they get. And really, because of the palpable tension between them, even the unintentional foreplay scenes are too erotic for words.
I also love how the two characters are forced to examine their feelings and thoughts for each other, but even as they both mellow and learn more about themselves by the end of the story, they remain who they are - just older and wiser - without having to change into a completely different person. Violet doesn't get punished for being who she is, she is instead beloved for being true to herself. It is also wildly romantic how Flint eventually realizes that he loves Violet and chooses her over his plans for revenge. And throughout it all, I love how both Violet and Flint do not try to blame each other for what they are trying to do. She wants to protect her brother, he understands that. He wants to avenge the death of his mentor, she understands that. Their romance can be complicated because of the issues that stand between them, but this only makes their happy ending far more sweeter, because it is one that is hard fought for.
I Kissed An Earl is not for everybody, mostly because the heroine can be spoiled, reckless, and haughty, as she is confident of her worth, being that she is the daughter of one of the wealthiest and most powerful families in Pennyroyal Green - and a beautiful one at that. She is also competitive and endeavors to be the best in what she does - which means she can come off as very arrogant and in your face as well. For me, these aren't flaws as much as traits that make Violet a refreshing change for a heroine. The heroine aside, this book also has some bewildering editorial boo-boos and a premise that requires considerable suspension of disbelief.
But because I love the main characters and their tale of self-discovery and romance so much, I'm easily persuaded to overlook the boo-boos and more implausible instances in the story. This is easily one of the funniest and yet most romantic and emotional romance novels I've come across in a while. I Kissed An Earl - well, I like it. Very, very much.
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