Review – The Reluctant Earl by C.J. Chase

I have an immoderate love of stories that feature heroine characters who are governesses.  There’s something about a character who balances on the knife edge of taking care of herself (being employed) and of being utterly at the whim of others (her employers, their guests, etc.) that is interesting to me.  Maybe it’s Jane Eyre‘s fault…

Cover image, The Reluctant Earl by C.J. Chase

The blurb, courtesy of Goodreads:

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 DeChambelle’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….

That’s right!  She’s a governess and (sort of) a traitor to her country.  There were so many things I liked about this book.  The characters are complex and constructed with many shades of gray (especially Leah).  While quite a few of the characters do some pretty awful things, not a one of them is without some redeeming quality and/or some powerful impetus.

My educational background is political science, and my favorite classes were theory classes.  What is right, in the context of all humanity?  What is just?  These questions are huge and unanswerable, but it is the business of every society to grapple with them nonetheless and attempt a best answer.  This book asks these questions indirectly, and I loved it for having the guts to do so.  In addition to these broad social questions, this book examines faith and redemption, trust, love, and imperfection.  Romances that contain social commentary may not be everyone’s cup of tea, but I enjoy them.  The Reluctant Earl discusses  social equity relating to the largess of the few and the starvation of the many (it is set during  the winter of 1816, called the year without a summer) and discusses the treatment of the mentally ill and infirm during the Regency Era (in case you were wondering, they weren’t treated well.).

There is a good deal of adventure in this story, as the characters investigate and solve a murder, prevent an overthrow of the government, and thwart a kidnapping.  I really enjoyed the chemistry between Leah and Julian — and especially the  sweet ending — but the development of their romance didn’t exactly flow naturally.  It seemed a little strange that Julian would go from, “OMG, she’s a traitor!!!” to “OMG, I think I love her!!!” without knowing any of the reasons for Leah’s apparently treasonous actions.  I suppose we are to understand that admiration sometimes overrules reason (in these cases).  The ending, though, is so sweet, that I forgave the book for not making a whole lot of sense.  It should be noted that The Reluctant Earl is an inspirational romance in which both main characters meander their way towards faith, helped on by a few helpful (if a bit preachy) secondary characters.

There was one thing about this book that really bugged me.  After the first or second mention of how incredibly cold 1816 was, how there was a famine because of the lack of summer, and how the winter was doubly awful because everyone was cold and hungry, I totally understood: it was cold.  But the author wants to make sure that we really understand.  The phrase “winter of want” appears three times in the book (there is also a “winter of despair and deprivation,” two mentions of a “winter of famine,” a “winter of deprivation” and a “winter of scarcity”;  “famine” is mentioned five times; and “winter” appears 37 times.  Now, I know it’s petty, but after the fourth or fifth reference to winter, I felt pulled out of the story every time it came up.

Bottom line: I enjoyed reading this story and will probably pick up other books by C.J. Chase.  Leah is a lovely character, and it’s worth it to read the book just to follow the adventures of a treasonous (but not really) governess.

The Reluctant Earl was published on February 5, 2013 as an e-book and paperback by Harlequin Love Inspired Historical.  If you’re interested in finding out more about the book, please click the cover image above.  For more information on C.J. Chase, visit her website here.

*FTC Disclosure – I received an e-galley of this book from Harlequin Love Inspired Historical via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.*