The Unexpected Earl by Philippa Jane Keyworth

02_The Unexpected Earl

Six years after being jilted without a word of explanation, Julia Rotherham finds Lucius Wolversley standing before her once again–unexpected, unannounced, unwelcome. With her heart still hurting and, more importantly, her pride, Julia must chaperone her younger sister, fend off fortune hunters, orchestrate a fake engagement, and halt an elopement–all whilst keeping the man who jilted her at arm’s length. But what Julia doesn’t know is that this time, the Earl has no intention of disappearing, and this time, he has more than an explanation to offer….

Rating: D+

That would be D for “dull”.

Historicals are very much my poison of choice when it comes to romance reading, so rather than genre-hopping when I select review books, I tend to scout around for books by unknown or less familiar authors. Perhaps it’s overly optimistic of me, because I think that it happens more often than not that such a book is a dud, but I try to keep an open mind. That said, I sometimes wonder if I’m not following the definition of insanity in doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result – because The Unexpected Earl is, indeed, a dud.

A somewhat reclusive peer of the realm, Lucius, Earl of Wolversley, prefers to live quietly on his country estate than in the bustle of London, but a visit to town sees him reluctantly attending a come-out ball with his friend, Lord Courtenay. His dismay is only increased upon arrival, when he realises that the ball is being held at the London residence of the Rotherham family, who are neighbours of his in Sussex – and whose eldest daughter he had jilted without explanation six years previously.

The Earl of Wolversley is the last person Miss Julia Rotherham had expected to see anywhere, let alone in her family home. His unlooked-for appearance stirs up a myriad of emotions she had thought long-buried, the principal among them being anger at his effrontery in showing up, uninvited, at her younger sister’s come-out.

Several days spent in London where he cannot but help encounter Julia fairly often see Lucius deciding that it’s time to tell her the truth about the reasons that lay behind his breaking their engagement – but he is either interrupted or wimps out at each opportunity, so that Julia continues to believe he never loved her. Even when they are caught alone together behind closed doors, thus necessitating a hasty (re-) engagement, he can’t seem to find the time to tell her the truth, which turns out to be one of those “I can’t possibly allow you to sacrifice yourself on the altar of matrimony given that I’m now almost destitute through no fault of my own” contrivances.

So around the half-way point, they’re forced into another betrothal, but by then I was fast losing patience with both of them, because they just needed to have a bloody conversation! Following the latest engagement, it should have been easy enough given that a betrothed couple would have been allowed to spend a little time alone together, but even then, Julia thinks Lucius doesn’t want to be with her, he thinks she can’t stand the sight of him, and they keep running away from each other and allowing their misconceptions to frighten them into continued silence.

Note – It’s difficult to write a romance when your hero and heroine don’t spend much time in each other’s company, and never get a moment alone.

There’s a sub-plot concerning the machinations of a fortune hunter whom both Julia’s and Wolversley’s sisters think is swoon-worthy, but whom, from the author’s descriptions of him as wearing powder and rouge, sounds more to me like an ageing macaroni. The best part of that aspect of the plot is that mutual distrust of him gives Julia and Wolversley something to bond over – but their actual reconciliation falls completely flat, and Wolversley’s explanation to Julia as to why he jilted her takes place “off screen” (even though the reader has already been given that information).

I like second-chance romances, which is one of the reasons I picked up this book, but I’m afraid it proved to be a disappointment. The writing is decent, but the characterisation is very thin, and in Julia’s case, quite inconsistent at times. She behaves inappropriately (and unbelievably) for a young lady of the period when she gets more than a little bit tipsy in public at her sister’s ball, and while, for more than half the book, she despises Wolversley, she thinks to hurt him by faking a romance with her former beau. If she hates him that much, why try to make him jealous?

And then there’s Julia’s younger sister, who is a bit of a Jekyll and Hyde character – one minute, she’s a loving sister, and the next she’s reminding Julia she’s “old” (at twenty-three) and practically on the shelf, accusing her of always putting herself forward, and trying to eclipse her and acting like a complete bitch.

There is confusion over the use of names and titles, which is always a bugbear with me. Lucius is the Earl of Wolversley, yet he is frequently referred to as “Earl Wolversley”, which sounds like the name of a sixties Country and Western singer!  And then we discover that his family name is also Wolversley. Er – no. He’s either Lucius Wolversley, Earl of Somewhere, or Lucius Lastname, Earl of Wolversley. Not Lucius Wolversley, Earl of Wolversley. The family name of an earl is not usually the same as the name of the earldom.

I can’t find much to recommend in this book, I’m afraid. Apart from a very few glimpses of humour, the dialogue is lifeless, the plot is predictable and on top of that, there is no spark between the central characters. This is a completely clean romance (there’s one kiss at the end), but even so, it’s possible to generate romantic and sexual tension between a couple without taking the hero and heroine into the bedroom – I’ve read plenty of stories where that is the case. But there’s not even so much as a damp squib attempting to ignite between this pair, and overall, The Unexpected Earl turned out to be unerringly dull.

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