Grand Central Publishing, $8.00, ISBN 978-1-4555-2396-2
Historical Romance, 2014
These days, most authors at least claim to give some lip service to their heroines being independent and feisty. It’s quite a surprise, therefore, to discover that Lily Dalton’s Never Entice an Earl is a straight-up no-nonsense rescue fantasy. The heroine Daphne Bevington doesn’t just run headlong into trouble, she rushes into it with an exuberance usually seen only in televangelists rushing to get dying widows to sign over properties to their church and she vows fervently for at least one repeat performance. I don’t know whether to be in awe or to get a big fork in case I may need to stab a page later. Eventually, though, the heroine makes the choice for me. She’s a determined one.
Well, just listen to her story. Daphne is one of those ninnies who believe that they know everything there is to know about men. She will never marry unless she loves that man, and while she hasn’t worked out how she would determine whether a man would love her, she decides that nobody would do. She spends her London season watching over her sister – Clarissa is the flighty one, naturally, while Daphne is the sensible one – and deciding that she has to venture alone, without telling anyone, into the wildest part of town to help settle her maid’s debts. Her maid is her BFF, you see, and Daphne is an enlightened woman who is very democratic when it comes to showering the household staff with her determination to get sixty thousand ways of violated on their behalf. She would start by letting herself be half-naked and paraded on a stage in this strange establishment…
Our hero Cormack Northmore came home a wealthy man, but instead of finding a happy family ready to be feted by his money, he discovers her sister dying after giving birth to a kid. Determined to discover who knocked her sister up and then abandoned her like that, Cormack now prowls the town on the trail to the possible suspects: a club of hedonistic SOBs who didn’t care who they took pleasure from and weren’t fussy about whether the woman in question was willing. Luckily for Daphne, he happens to be at the brothel when Daphne was about to make her debut as Victim #3,215 Codename: Nobody Cares. She naturally is so overwhelmed by his masculinity that she is gagging for a kiss pretty instantaneously the moment they are in a carriage. Remember, she’s the sensible one who is guarding her heart against evil men. Every other part of her body is game for all kinds of biological experimentation though, because, you know, sensible.
The rest of the story is basically Daphne gagging to be shagged like the overheated nymphomaniac she is, when she’s not running into trouble or getting into trouble due to the repercussions of a recent stupid stunt. It’s been a while since I’ve come across a heroine that desperately needs rescuing as much and as often as her. In fact, by the midway point of this book, I want to see her married, because it’s pretty clear that getting married is the only way she’s not going to end up a bloated rotting carcass in the Thames by Christmas. The dangers in this story faced by women like her are real, which makes Daphne’s determination to keep doing stupid things a painful thing to follow.
What’s sad is that, aside from Daphne’s inability to go past two chapters without being assaulted by all kinds of threat on her virtue, she has very little going for her. She’s basically every bad “idiot dingbat determined to be her favorite Amanda Quick heroine” trope thrown together. Cormack is basically that guy who will get her out of trouble when he’s not being her guinea pig during their biology class. The romance happens just because it has to happen, and the frantic activities caused by the external conflicts end up resolved thanks to a convenient last-minute plot development.
Therefore, nothing is really done right here. Just the author flailing around, trying to keep her ship of faithfully replicated tropes afloat in a sea of pedestrian and frequently purple narrative.