Avon, $7.99, ISBN 978-0-06-235862-2
Historical Romance, 2015
Eva Leigh is the new pseudonym for the author who previously wrote stories as Zoë Archer. She had written some historical romances under that name, and those were interesting, refreshing stories. Forever Your Earl, on the other hand, is definitely more like a stock Regency-era historical romance that relies heavily on tropes revolving around the feisty bluestocking and the rake who is just looking for a good woman to love and settle down with. Maybe it’s for the best, as those interesting historical romances back in those days didn’t exactly see the author rolling in money, but for me, I’m disappointed by how I just can’t get into this story.
Eleanor Hawke is the publisher of the scandal sheet The Hawk’s Eye. Right away, I think, “Please don’t have her in the end feeling all bad and ashamed about her career and have her ranting about how we should be more concerned about serious news and what not!” After all, that will be boring and, not to mention, overdone. Well, guess what, that’s exactly what happens here! One can extrapolate this conclusion to mean that reading romance novels is bad too, as we should spend our time on more edifying reading materials like nonfiction, but I doubt that is the author’s intention! Anyway, Eleanor is approached one day by Daniel Balfour, the Earl of Ashford. He claims that much of what was written on the scandal sheet about him is untrue, so he’d like to offer her a chance to trail him around and write the real deal on how a rake like him actually lives. Naturally, Eleanor is all for it, and running around in men’s clothes on the streets of London at night can make one so horny and desperate for the heart and other body parts of emo rakes. Is this love?
On Daniel’s part, his offer is an effort to divert attention from a potential brewing scandal. His BFF is MIA, and the guy’s estate is now without an heir. To protect that family, he’d have this lady reporter-cum-publisher on his tail while he is, at the same time, trying to locate his buddy. If you ask me, he may as well chain himself to a carcass of a cow and attempt to swim in the Thames, given how bizarre this plan of his is. I mean, can you imagine the kind of dirt a sleazy no-good reporter – just like what he initially expected “E Hawke” to be – may dig out of this arrangement? As plans go, this one is up there with others filed under “I could have sworn this is a plan conceived by a romance heroine!”
The biggest reason I can’t get into this story is that characters don’t think and behave like what they are written up to be. Eleanor is supposed to be a calculating and cynical publisher and writer who keeps tabs on the dirty and naughty things the Ton get into behind closed doors, but she seems unrealistically naïve about the things people do. For example, her idea of a “shocking” scandal is a bridegroom-to-be shacking up with a prostitute on his last night as a bachelor. Eleanor has been writing for and running a tabloid for a while now, and she claims to have a good network of spies… and this is what she considers a scandal? Where are these people living in? A Disney version of early 19th-century England?
Worse, Eleanor willingly lets Daniel approve the things she writes about him for her scandal sheet. Why? He needs her, not the other way around, so why give him the power over her editorial direction? The author claims that Eleanor is a savvy and shrewd person, so this strikes me as something a savvy and shrewd publisher of a scandal sheet would not do. Eleanor also trails Daniel based on a schedule and routine that he has planned, so it should be obvious to all that the resulting “adventures” would probably be staged and, hence tame and fake. Eleanor never takes this into consideration at all. There are many other instances in this story where I am struck by how much Eleanor doesn’t think and behave like what she is supposed to be, and this really distracts me from my ability to enjoy this story.
Daniel is said to be scandalous and naughty, having graced the tabloid frequently, but he doesn’t seem that way. For example, he seems to be enchanted by Eleanor way too easily for someone who supposedly has sampled a variety of dishes at the honeypot buffet. Eleanor isn’t anything special at all, she isn’t particularly insightful or intelligent, and yet he acts like he has never seen such a funny, intelligent, and remarkable lady before. But this could be due to poor execution of the story. A lot of times, I get banal conversations that are described by the characters are some of the deepest things they’ve been a part of. All this makes the characters seem like they have just graduated from kindergarten and this is the first time they are meeting people who are not related to them.
Eleanor spends a lot of time showing off her big ass to Daniel while talking about male versus female roles and expectations in their society, but these conversations are very superficial. They see Eleanor going on and on about “male privilege” but everything is just buzzwords and shallow. These discourses look like expanded versions of Tumblr posts and Tweets from cozy first world ladies who imagine themselves as oppressed third world darlings when they have very little idea how the truly oppressed people think and feel. If I compare such yammering to, say, that in Courtney Milan’s books, the difference is very evident. I know some readers feel that Ms Milan’s soapbox in her stories can be a bit too preachy, but Ms Milan often succeeds in making me believe that her heroines genuinely, passionately care and are well-informed about these issues. Here, Eleanor is just saying things to sound profound when she’s just a scandal sheet lady who for some reason thinks she’s better than everyone else.
Forever Your Earl is a readable tale, but in the end, I feel that it is a little too insincere for its own good. It tries to convince me that the characters, the plot, and everything else are better than what they actually are, but it is too easy for me to see that there is little in the story to back up these big claims.