Formats available: paperback, ebook, audiobook
Series: Wicked Quills of London #1
Published by Avon on September 29th 2015
Purchasing Info: Author's Website, Publisher's Website, Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Kobo, Bookshop.org
Eleanor Hawke loves a good scandal. And readers of her successful gossip rag live for the exploits of her favorite subject: Daniel Balfour, the notorious Earl of Ashford. So when the earl himself marches into her office one day and invites her to experience his illicit pursuits firsthand, Eleanor is stunned. Gambling hells, phaeton races, masquerades…What more could a scandal writer want than a secret look into the life of this devilishly handsome rake?
Daniel has secrets and if The Hawk’s Eye gets wind of them, a man’s life could be at stake. And what better way to distract a gossip than by feeding her the scandal she desperately craves? But Daniel never expected the sharp mind and biting wit of the beautiful writer, and their desire for each other threatens even his best laid plans.
But when Eleanor learns the truth of his deception, Daniel will do anything to prove a romance between a commoner and an earl could really last forever.
Forever Your Earl is a terrific start to a rather unconventional Regency romance series. And it is all the better for that wide streak of unconventionality.
Eva Leigh is the pen name that Zoe Archer is using for this historical romance series. The romances that Zoe writes under her real name have fairly large helpings of action/adventure and sometimes even alternate or science fictional worlds mixed in with the romance. And I especially love her Blades of the Rose, 8th Wing and Ether Chronicles series for those elements.
In her first outing as Eva Leigh, the element that sets this story apart from more traditional Regency romances is her heroine and the attitude reversal between the hero and heroine.
Eleanor Hawke is a woman in a man’s world. Even more important, she is a woman making her way independently in a world where women are usually relegated to roles as either drudges or ornaments, as the heroine calls it. Eleanor is neither. She owns her own business, admittedly a slightly unconventional one. Eleanor, as E. Hawke, publishes a scandal-sheet newspaper. She is also one of her own investigative reporters and the editor. But the business is Eleanor’s from beginning to end, she owns it, she runs it, she lives and dies with it every day the miracle occurs and an issue goes to press. It’s her life and her livelihood in an era when women weren’t supposed to have either.
She is also neither a virgin nor a prude. She lives her life by her terms, and has no intentions of marrying. And, unusual for her time and place, she knows perfectly well how to prevent pregnancy and disease when she chooses to take a lover. She’s not profligate, and she is discreet. But it is her life and she lives it on her own terms.
Daniel Balfour, the Earl of Ashwood, is one of The Hawke’s Eye’s most frequent targets. He is a rake and a reprobate, but also a rich and titled man. He seemingly has everything he wants or needs, but has begun to find his life in pursuit of pleasure dull and empty. His best friend has disappeared into the stews of London, suffering from what we would label PTSD, after his return from the Napoleonic Wars.
Daniel used to envy his friend for getting to be aa Army officer, but now all he wants is to find the haunted man and bring him home. Jonathan is the heir to a dukedom, and the scandal if his current situation is discovered will threaten his family’s standing, especially as it concerns the marriageability of his sister Catherine. He’s the one in trouble, but with society as it is, she is the one who will pay the price if he isn’t found.
Daniel needs The Hawke’s Eye to stop focusing its gaze upon his activities, so that he can hunt for his friend in secret. He expects to bribe, bully or cow a man, but instead finds that E. Hawke is a woman who attracts him. Not just because she is beautiful, but because she shines with a purpose and a passion for living that he has found lacking in himself.
They come to an agreement. He will let her accompany him into the revels of the aristocracy, into places that she, either as a woman or as a middle-class plebe, would never get to go. In return, she will write articles about their escapades, leaving his identity a mystery. He thinks that by controlling what she sees, he can keep her focus away from his search. With the added bonus that everyone else in the ton will be too busy watching those very public activities to look too deeply into his private ones.
What neither of them expects is that they will be drawn to each other like a magnet and iron filings. Or that in the process of falling in love, they will reveal to each other secrets that they never meant to share.
But no matter how much they come to love each other, there is no future for an aristo and a plebe. If they defy convention and marry, they will be ostracized and their children will be cut from society. In the end, the social opprobrium will kill their love and their marriage. It’s happened before. It’s inevitable that it will happen to them.
Or is it?
Escape Rating B: There are two parts to this story. The first part is the developing relationship between Eleanor and Daniel. They have a long way to go from respected adversaries to cautious friends to lovers. The second part is Daniel’s search for his friend.
While that relationship is growing, Daniel is forced to put his search for his friend into the background, because he is afraid to expose the secret to someone he initially sees as a snooping, untrustworthy journalist. It is Eleanor’s job to ferret out secrets just like the one that Daniel is keeping.
But the closer they become, the harder it is to hide their true selves from each other, including the truth about why Daniel was willing to expose his life in the first place.
The most interesting aspect of the first part of their story is the way that Eleanor thinks. When she dresses as a man to attend a gaming hell, she doesn’t just change her clothes, she observes who she is and what she is, and what it means to be a man striding boldly through the world instead of a woman who has been trained since birth to take up as little space as possible. As she voices her thoughts, it makes Daniel examine himself as well, and what it means to be a man. He also is forced to think about how privileged he is and how different life is for women, not because it is natural as he originally believed, but because they have been trained to act a certain way.
Throughout their relationship, Eleanor is often the one who thinks, while Daniel is the one who acts. She is more coolly analytical, while he rushes in with his emotions on display and sometimes his fists swinging wildly. She is also much more realistic about their relationship than he is, because she is the one who will pay the price for it.
One of the questions that has dogged me after reading this book is a question of just how realistic or anachronistic Daniel and especially Eleanor are. He shows much more feeling from the outset than the alpha heroes we usually see in Regency and historical romance. And she owns her own business and acts like a businesswoman, albeit one who is aware of the restrictions on women’s behavior, even when she consciously sets those restrictions aside.
The way that her situation is setup, Eleanor feels just barely plausible. Not terribly likely, but plausible. It’s enough to allow the willing suspension of disbelief to sweep the reader into the story. Her attitudes come out of her situation in a way that holds the reader in the story. Or at least, this reader.
In that second part of the story, Daniel’s search for his friend, now with Eleanor’s assistance, adds that touch of action and adventure that is the hallmark of this author’s romance. At the same time, it also adds a bit to that unconventionality. We are all to aware of PTSD today, but the question of what Daniel and Eleanor’s contemporaries would have thought about Jonathan’s condition was probably more than a bit different. But Daniel’s unconventional empathy is part of his charm.
If you like your romances with a bit of adventure and a big dollop of unconventionality along with your pursuit of a happily ever after, Forever Your Earl is the lovely opening to what looks to be a terrific series.
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