Review – The Reluctant Earl by C.J. Chase

The Reluctant Earl cover image
Publisher: Love Inspired
Publish Date: Out now
How I got this book: ARC from the publisher via Netgalley

Caught in the Act

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…

This blurb came from the author’s website.

I was browsing Netgalley when I saw this book. I noticed the cover and the word Historical so I went ahead and looked at the blurb. Since the blurb looked like fun I requested the book. Unfortunately I failed to notice the Love Inspired portion of the cover and I did not look to see which particular line this came from or I would have known to expect an inspirational romance. Please do not take that comment to mean that I dislike inspirationals, I just do not read a lot of them and was not expecting to read one with this book. As a result I felt one way when I finished reading the book and leveled out to mixed feelings when I went back to review the cover, blurb and other book information before writing this review.

When I started reading I quickly found myself captivated by the characters. There was tragedy, family drama, angst, economic depression, civil unrest, intrigue, and class snobbery. Leah lived a pretty restrictive life as a governess. She was forced to take a job when her family fell upon hard times and she was left responsible for her brain damaged younger sister. Her pay wasn’t enough to cover her sister’s care at a decent asylum so she augmented her salary by selling information about higher society. As a result of everything that had happened to her family; brother killed at sea during the war, father and mother dead, sister unable to care for herself and her own personal experience with the horrors of life as a woman in service Leah had a rather fatalistic perspective on life. One night Julian caught her snooping in his room and turned her into a double agent.

Julian wasn’t enjoying life. His father had been injured in a carriage accident and died. His older brother, trained as the heir to the title was also dead. His younger brother was settled in California, one sister refused to have anything to do with the rest of the family, one sister had her own family to care for, and his youngest sister was special needs. Julian was a navy officer by both inclination and skill so he is very uncomfortable about gaining the title and its various responsibilities. As a result of a note slipped in his pocket, he decided to start investigating the death of this father, which brought him to his estranged sister’s house. The same house that employed Leah as governess.

I was completely engrossed with the characters and their struggles when about halfway through the book the first reference to Leah having lost her faith came up. Followed shortly thereafter by Molly, a maid, saying that maybe God made certain things happen so she would be there to minister to Leah. At that point I did a mental double-take because the references to faith and religion came out of nowhere. As the second half of the book progressed the focus shifted from the mystery, intrigue, family drama to that of returning back to your faith. Once Leah found her faith everything had the best possible resolution that it could regardless of how improbable given the make-up of the characters as previously established.

When I initially finished reading I felt like I had been cheated out of a satisfying book climax. Then when I went back and reread the blurb, studied the front cover, and looked at the publisher I realized this was an inspirational romance to begin with and therefore faith is supposed to be a central theme. Viewing The Reluctant Earl through that lens more of the second half of the book made sense however, I still have two big issues. First is that faith did not even come up until the second half of the book, so if I was expecting inspirational from the beginning I would have been upset not to find it. Leah and her lack of faith was not a central theme or even an internal character conflict so it seemed like this was a late addition to the plot. The second issue I have is that the personalities of the supporting characters all changed once Leah found her Faith. Years long family quarrels were mended, the murderer was found, Leah’s sister was removed from the asylum to live comfortably. Economic depression and civil unrest were no longer a topic of discussion or concern. I can understand that finding faith will help an individual deal with everything that is going on in their life but to use faith to hand wave over all of the previous issues seemed to do an injustice to the characters and their lives to that point.

I enjoyed the premise of The Reluctant Earl and overall I liked both Leah and Julian but I had some issues with the uneven execution. If Leah’s lack of or struggle to regain her faith had been a thread throughout the narrative I think I would have enjoyed reading this more.

I give The Reluctant Earl a C-

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