Harlequin Historical, $6.50, ISBN 978-0-373-29864-8
Historical Romance, 2016
God, In Debt to the Earl is pretty deficient when it comes to… everything, really.
The plot is like this. James, the Earl of Cambourne, decides to punish the Captain Sharp that tried to fleece his cousin by beating that man in his own game. When that fellow predictably vanishes instead of paying up what he owed, James tracks down the man only to discover the man’s sixteen-year old daughter Lucy. Oh dear, what will happen to Lucy if he succeeds in completely ruining her father? Well, he already has his answer, as this entire story is basically all about saving Lucy both from herself and from the bad guy whom her now MIA father owes a lot of money.
This is a story that Mary Balogh would approve: Lucy and James are in many ways responsible for Lucy’s car wreck of a life. James has no problems seeing himself taking Lucy as a mistress, so he keeps visiting her, allowing her landlord to believe that Lucy is selling her rump to the highest bidder; so this landlady demands an extra three shillings in rent. Instead of telling James to pay up or something, Lucy doubles her efforts to play violin on the streets for money, only to end up getting the arm that she uses to play injured when an irate shopkeeper beats her for taking up space on the pavement. She only finally decides to be his mistress when she feels obligated to him (he pays her rent and helps her friend stay out of trouble), and even then, she snaps at him and generally acts like a constipated hedgehog. I have to hand it to Lucy – she may love being a victim, but she carries herself like an entitled spoiled brat. I’m quite in awe.
James causes a lot of problems for Lucy because he is clueless and generally assumes that he can do anything he wants to Lucy, with no consequences whatsoever will befall Lucy, snort. Lucy adds to her own problems by refusing to accept help until she really has no choice, and even then, she’d still lash out at James. Any time she could have made things easier for herself by being sensible, she would instead play the martyr or irrational dingbat and complicate her problems to no end. Yes, even to the bitter end, she refuses to marry James. In fact, at one point, she insists that James, whom she acknowledges has fed her, protected her, and generally did a lot of nice things for her, cannot be with her anymore because, in her mind, he has used her and, therefore, he doesn’t love her so she cannot be with him anymore. When she realizes that maybe she has overreacted, her plan is to go find a new protector and vow never to fall for that man.
My fervent wish that she’d find a new protector who would beat her and then defecate on her face – how’s that for true love now, huh? – is dashed when she promptly falls into the clutches of the villain the moment the hero leaves her alone. Of course he saves her, and she’d repay him by insisting that she can never marry him because she is not good enough for him.
There are many moments when Lucy gets an idea of how stupid she has been after the deed is done, but I may respect her a bit more if she translates her awareness into action a little more. As it is, she is basically a heroine cut from the same cloth that Mary Balogh uses to cut her heroines, and no amount of self-awareness can change the fact that she is walking cray cray. Okay, maybe we can argue that she’s sixteen, so maybe she can’t help being so silly and naïve, but her lack of worldliness is not the problem here: it is her pride and stubbornness that make her such a walking train wreck.
James’s relationship with Lucy is very unbalanced – he has all the power and her only real option in this story is to put out to him if she doesn’t want to end up doing worse things on the streets. No amount of sweet moments can mask this fact. Additionally, his relationship with Lucy often makes her look like a child. He often calls her “girl” or “child”, and what passes for quiet times between them are spent feeding ducks and skipping stones. He is more like Jean Valjean than Marius to her Cosette. I guess it is a good thing that he is willing to “court” her after she offers herself up as his mistress, snort – as if prolonging the inevitable will make this lopsided relationship any less unbalanced. The whole thing is rather creepy, especially when Lucy is that girl who needs a twelve-year old boy to protect her from the scums on the street.
And as for the rest of the story, I don’t know. Why is an earl running around the slums of London chasing after a girl? Doesn’t he have anything better to do? Is it even safe for him to do all this wandering alone thing? He’s not even trying to hide that he’s the Earl of Cambourne, so I suppose that the mere mention of him being an earl is protection enough in the slums? Of course, if he keeps his hands clean, he’d never meet Lucy and try to persuade her to put out, so there’s that.
In Debt to the Earl is a very painful story to read because both James and Lucy are often contriving to make life very difficult for her, mostly to just keep the problems piling on. This is definitely a book for fans of Mary Balogh and Jo Beverley. Folks with a low threshold for recalcitrant martyrs, beware – approach this one with great caution.