From the Back Cover:
How does a bookish lady bring an arrogant lord to his knees? Entice him to Scotland, strip him of titles and riches, and make him prove what sort of man he truly is.
Handsome, wealthy, and sublimely confident, Colin Gray, the new Earl of Egremoor, has vowed to unmask the rabble-rousing pamphleteer, Lady Justice, the thorn in England’s paw. And he’ll stop at nothing.
Smart, big-hearted, and passionately dedicated to her work, Lady Justice longs to teach her nemesis a lesson in humility. But her sister is missing, and a perilous journey with her archrival into unknown territory just might turn fierce enemies into lovers.
I had not read Katharine Ashe before, and I found the description of The Earl so intriguing that I jumped at the chance to review it. This is the second book in the Devil's Duke series, which is a spin-off of the popular Falcon Club series, and while some brief snippets of backstory are included for new readers like me, I did find myself a tad confused as a lot of names and incidents were mentioned throughout that I was unfamiliar with, and though I probably would have had a bit more understanding and appreciation for the backdrop this story is set against had I read the previous books, the main story and romance in The Earl was able to stand alone just fine.
The story begins with a heartbreaking prologue featuring Colin Gray, the future Earl of Egremoor, as a child who cannot speak, and I was instantly sucked into the story, burning through the early pages as Colin, aka Peregrine, and Emily, aka Lady Justice, were introduced, and we learn that though they don't know each other's true identities, these two enemies share a long and troubled history. Having been abandoned by her only friend at the age of nine, Emily has forged her own path in life, championing women's and working class rights while eschewing the traditional role of wife and mother society expects of her. Her alter ego has made quite the name for herself, and she's also made a few enemies, including Colin, who she calls out in her pamphlets for refusing to support her referendums. She has also struck up a correspondence with the mysterious Peregrine, member of a shadow group that specializes in finding lost people, and now she needs his help. Her own sister has gone missing, and Emily is determined to find her. But the price may be too high to pay: Peregrine wants to meet Lady Justice face-to-face. She finally agrees to a nighttime meeting in a shadowy park, and, not wanting to invite scandal by revealing her sister as the missing woman, she gives him the name of the woman last seen in her sister's company, hoping that finding her will lead to finding her sister. She manages to hide her identity, but during the brief and intense exchange, she discovers a shocking truth: Peregrine is none other than Colin Gray, the man who broke her heart and never looked back so many years ago, a man who represents everything she hates about English society. Emily abruptly tells him she's changed her mind and no longer needs his help and flees before he can discern who she is.
Though the lady insisted she no longer needs his help, Colin is determined to find the woman anyway, and when he does, he will finally unmask Lady Justice and expose her for the charlatan she is. He begins his journey in Scotland, planning to travel to the woman's last-known location, when he runs into the last person he ever expected to see on the road, Emily Vale, his best friend from childhood, and a woman he has tried to hard to forget. She's not best pleased to see him either. After realizing she couldn't count on Peregrine to help, she's taking finding her sister into her own hands and is answering a mysterious summons to visit Castle Kallin, home of the maligned "Devil Duke." Unfortunately, the two are quickly thrown into close quarters when they are mistaken for a pair of highwaymen wreaking havoc on the countryside, going so far as to murder an innocent woman, and all while one dresses like a woman and the other uses Colin's name. On the run from vengeful villagers, the two try to stay a step ahead of vigilante justice as they make their way to the castle, Colin determined to find out why Emily holds such a grudge against him and Emily determined to fight her growing attraction to him. But danger and desire have a way of thwarting the best-laid plans...
I thought this story had an interesting premise, and it does stand out as being different from your average Regency romance, but I found the execution a little disappointing. After a compelling beginning and an intense start to their adventure, the story grew repetitive. They run, they argue, they're attracted to each other, they're found, they escape, and repeat. Over and over again. I liked both characters, and they had interesting backgrounds, but they were both so stubborn, and they held on to their grudges and secrets for too long. However, when they finally did give in to their attraction, I found those scenes to be some of the sweetest, sexiest, and most romantic I've read in quite some time. And the descriptions of the Scottish countryside they are running through are thoroughly transporting. But the mystery of Emily's sister is not resolved; in fact, it seems to be a setup for the next book in the series, so not getting a payoff there was rather disappointing. I found the resolution of the case of mistaken identity to be very predictable, as was the behavior of both Colin and Emily when Lady Justice's identity was finally revealed. But I give Colin big props for calling Emily out on her hypocrisy in passing judgment on everyone else while she hides in anonymity, causing her to do some real soul searching and achieve true character growth, and his actions at the end are swoon-worthy.
So as you can see, I have mixed feelings about this book. If you've read the previous books, of course you have to read this one, and knowing more than I did about the backdrop, you may get more enjoyment out of it than I did. It's well written, and I was able to follow along well enough, but what started out as exciting and unique slowly grew tedious and predictable for me. But it was saved by a good ending, and I was intrigued enough by the members of the Falcon Club to go back and add the other books to my reading list.
My Rating: 3.5 Stars out of 5
*This review was originally posted to Romantic Historical Reviews.