The Reluctant Earl by C.J Chase

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Alone in a gentleman’s bedchamber, rummaging through his clothing-governess Leah Vance risks social ruin. Only by selling political information can she pay for her sister’s care. And the letter she found in Julian DeChambrelle’s coat could be valuable-if the ex-sea captain himself had not just walked in.

As a navy officer, Julian knew his purpose. As a new earl, he’s plagued by trivialities and marriage-obsessed females. Miss Vance’s independence is intriguing-and useful. In return for relaying false information, he will pay her handsomely. But trusting her, even caring for her? That would be pure folly. Yet when he sees the danger that surrounds her, it may be too late to stop himself….

RHFL Classifications:

Heat Level 1 (barely!)

Regency Mystery/Romance

REVIEW RATING: 3.5 STARS

Review by Caz

England after the Napoleonic Wars was a country that had been brought almost to its knees. Indeed, life over here, given the restrictions on trade resulting from the wars, was much harder for the ordinary, working man than it was in France. Added to that, a run of bad winters and poor harvests meant that food was scarce and many were starving, so it was perhaps not surprising that some began to look across the Channel and consider emulating the way that the French had dealt with society’s huge inequalities some twenty years earlier.

This is the historical background against which the action of The Reluctant Earl is set. The novel opens with Julian DeChambelle, the new Earl Chambleton receiving anonymous information to the effect that his recently deceased father may have been murdered. The late earl was known to have been sympathetic to the plight of the common people, and to have been trying to further their cause in Parliament.
In order to attempt to solve the mystery of his father’s death, Julian visits his estranged sister, whose husband is a member of the government, and in doing so, meets Leah Vance, who is governess to his niece. It is an inauspicious meeting ; as when they meet, Leah is searching his room for information which she can sell in order provide care for her mentally ill sister.

Naturally, Julian is mistrustful, but instead of exposing Leah’s activities he decides instead to turn them to his advantage, and gets her to supply false information to the group of rebels she is helping.
Chambleton, formerly a Captain in the Navy, is finding it difficult to adjust to his new responsibilities, especially as he had never expected to inherit the title; and Leah knows that she may soon be unable to continue to provide for her sister as her charge is to make her come-out shortly and will no longer have need of a governess. Thus, both of them are somewhat adrift and unsure of their place in society.

The principal story – Julian’s search for the truth about his father’s death – is well put together, with plenty of mystery, action and opportunities to further the burgeoning romance between the earl and the governess. I confess I found the fact that both protagonists had sisters who needed specialist care rather too much of a coincidence, but the story worked overall.

The historical background to the romance is well-researched and very interesting. Used as I am to reading about rakish dukes and beautiful debutantes, I realised when reading this that in the majority of those other novels, there is little or no comment on the political situation, the food shortages and the riots. I was especially intrigued by the mention of the Spa Fields Riots which took place late in 1816, and of the plot to assassinate the Prince Regent in 1817 – and have been motivated to find out more.

This title comes from Harlequin’s Love Inspired line, and so there is some discussion of faith. Both Julian and Leah have lost theirs, and the last part of the book in particular deals with both of them realising (separately) that they need to learn to place more of their trust in the Almighty. I will admit that this aspect of the book wasn’t important to me, and there were a couple of times that I thought – “ah, yes – I’m being reminded this is a ‘Christian’ novel” – but in the grand scheme of things, I can accept a little proselytising now and again! After all, at the time the novel is set, religion played a more important part in people’s lives than it does for many of us today, so the issue is not out of place.

The blend of mystery and romance works reasonably well, although I’d say the mystery is more to the forefront than the romance; but overall, this is an easy, comfortable (and informative) read.

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