Avon, $7.99, ISBN 978-0-06-239103-2
Historical Romance, 2016
You will have to be able to go along with the premise of The Earl Takes All in order to enjoy it. Let me give the synopsis of the story so that you can see better what I mean.
We have two identical twin brothers, Albert and Edward Alcott. Albert, the older brother, is the Earl of Greyling, and he is in love with Julia Kenney. To Edward, Julia is the Yoko Ono, the interloper who stole away Albert, the big brother that provides him with emotional support, and “reformed” Albert from that rakish lifestyle he used to enjoy – hence causing Edward to lose a partner-in-crime as well. Worse, Albert wants to stay home and be with Julia instead of seeing the world with Edward! He can’t take it, he must “punish” Julia by coming on to her while pretending that he is Albert. Alas, the kiss is wonderful, amazing, and he doesn’t even mind the slap she gives him when he taunts her about her inability to tell the two brothers apart, because she’s so hot.
Then we cut to later, when Albert is dead during a trip abroad – a trip that Edward persuaded Albert to go with him. Julia doesn’t know of Albert’s death yet, and since she’s carrying Albert’s child, Albert had Edward vow to pretend to be him and take his place when Edward returns to England, so that Julia’s grief will not cause a miscarriage. Edward agrees, and Julia still can’t tell the difference between the two brothers. Edward has always been attracted to Julia, so now he’s stuck between a rock and a hard place – he loves her, and pretending to be Albert may be a way for him to find happiness with her on a clean slate, but the truth will have to come out. What will happen then?
So, to enjoy this story, you have to accept that a woman in love with her husband is unable to tell him and his twin brother apart even a little. Edward drinks a lot in this story, so I’d expect his alcohol breath or red bleary eyes to be a giveaway, but then again, this is one of those stories where the man’s constant drinking is hand waved away as some rakish quirk, one that would magically go away once he finds true love. Come to think of it, “Albert” seems ignorant of some major things about the marriage that should be some red flags, but if Julia is more alert, this one would have been a much shorter story. Julia can be hilarious – her “husband” had lost a twin brother, one that he saw die before his eyes, and she spends a while wondering why “Albert” isn’t shagging her with gusto the moment he comes home. If I were her, I’d be more worried if witnessing his brother’s death only makes him more randy.
There are some nicely written emotional scenes, but the whole thing is marred by the nature of the romance. Apparently, Edward and Julia have always had a mutual attraction, and Edward deliberately acted like a jackass back then, showing up drunk at her husband’s place and demanding money to pay off his debts and what not, but the author tells me that he was just like that because he wanted to keep a distance between her and him. What, just staying away wouldn’t work – he had to be a disruptive tool instead? His antics, along with his drinking, are sugarcoated here as things bad boys do when they love too much – how well that will go down depends on how willing you are to play along with the author.
Julia is the weakest link here, because her emotions don’t make much sense, come to think of it. She loves Albert, but she has also secretly yearned for Edward, so I have no idea whom she is thinking of in her head when she finally sleeps with Edward. Given that Edward was quite the turd throughout their past acquaintance, her attraction to him seems more like lust than anything else to me. Hence, I can only scratch my head when she discovers Edward’s deception, only to then sleep with him anyway. I’d expect a sane person would at least need some time to digest what has happened before going, “Hey! Happy sex with the guy I’ve always secretly wanted!” Okay, I can buy that Edward loves her after he gets to know her better in his masquerade as Albert, but the deception goes on for so long, Julia doesn’t have time to work out her feelings in a believable manner. Hence, I can only wonder about this “romance” – the love thing doesn’t ring true to me.
There is also some intrigue in that the laws of those days don’t permit a man to marry his late brother’s spouse, but the author offers a convenient solution – probably too convenient – to these two’s predicament. As for whether Albert would approve that his twin brother is taking his place in the marriage bed, well, that one is conveniently resolved too in exactly the sappy way I anticipated.
The Earl Takes All delivers some good emotional scenes, as I’ve mentioned, but the entire package feels off. I find myself thinking that the story would have worked better if Edward hadn’t gone ahead with the deception, and just came home to make peace with the brother’s widow without the complication of a brat in the way. Such a less complicated story would have allowed for more room for angst and emotional drama, and it would have allowed both characters to work out the issues between them more believably. As it is, this one just tries more than it succeeds.