From the desk of Katie Patchell:
A lesson learned from the works of Jane Austen is that the rake never saves the day and never gets the girl. Mr. Wickham, Willoughby, Henry Crawford, John Thorpe, and Mr. Elliot are all fine examples of this rule. While Mr. Darcy, Colonel Brandon, Edmund Bertram, Henry Tilney, and Captain Wentworth all perfectly fit their roles as heroes, I’ve lately experienced some niggling doubts about these so-called rakes. Was Willoughby really so horrible, or were his actions the result of a lack of maturity and guidance? Would Henry Crawford have been faithful if Fanny had given him encouragement? This leads to a deeper question–What would happen if the rake DID get the girl? And what if he really wasn’t a rake at all—what if he was the hero in disguise? Those questions are explored and answered in The Earl Next Door (originally published as Anything but a Gentleman) by Amanda Grange, the author of the well-known series of diaries from the perspectives of Jane Austen’s heroes.
When Marianne Travis’ older brother, Kit, runs away from home because of large gambling debts (caused by his friendship with a rogue named Luke Somerville), it falls on her shoulders to run the family estate. Everything runs smoothly (and boringly) until she discovers a wounded man in the woods on her new neighbor’s property—a neighbor who happens to be the most handsome and exasperating man she has ever met—Lord Ravensford. Their first meeting gives Marianne the distinct impression that the Earl is just an incorrigible rake (he has the audacity to think she’s a lightskirt!), but as they spend more time together she finds herself more and more drawn to him and the intelligence and concern she sees behind the mask of a rogue. When secrets come to light about who the earl’s true identity is and what really happened to Kit, can Marianne get past her presuppositions and trust in the earl before it’s too late?
Luke Somerville, also known as the fifth Earl of Ravensford, had no way of knowing that the alluring woman who showed up un-chaperoned at his door was not a lightshirt, but instead his best friend’s sister—the woman he promised to protect. Knowing that the false rumors about the cause of Kit’s disappearance (and his own supposed villainy) are better than revealing the truth that could get Kit killed, he keeps his real name a secret and tries to hide the truth from Marianne—that Kit is really in France trying to save the woman he loves from the Jacobins. When word arrives that Kit is in danger, will Luke finally tell the truth to Marianne, and stop “overprotecting” her in time to accept her help? And can he finally convince her that he’s more than just a rake?
At first glance, The Earl Next Door seems to be yet another Regency romance about the stereotypical seductive rake and headstrong heroine. But what makes this novel different is that Amanda Grange takes those stereotypes and changes them, creating characters who fit those traits but who also have their own unique back stories, strengths, and weaknesses. Marianne, while a headstrong beauty, is shown to be brave and loyal—a heroine who goes against society’s rules by knowing how to doctor the injured, and who wants to marry for love instead of money. And Luke, while a handsome rake, is shown to be a protective friend, a hero who keeps his word and will do anything to help his friends.
Admittedly, during the first few chapters I had trouble getting into the story because of my presuppositions (like Marianne). I thought I knew exactly how it would end. How wrong I was–as I read I soon became pleasantly surprised with the story, especially the various plot twists. (Beware—spoilers ahead!) When Kit is injured in France, Marianne and Luke have to race against time to save him. And then came the moment when Marianne (and the reader) has certain proof that Luke is just an untrustworthy rake after all…or is he? How do these situations resolve, you ask? Well, that my dear reader is something you’ll have to find out for yourself!
The Earl Next Door is reminiscent of a good Georgette Heyer novel. It has a principled rake, an independent beauty, a dangerous rescue, a delightful romance, and most importantly, a happy ending. In this novel, Amanda Grange combines many of the usual motifs seen in Regency fiction but adds her own exciting twist, which makes for an entertaining story and a great read.
4 out of 5 Regency Stars
The Earl Next Door, by Amanda Grange
Trade paperback (260) pages
Cover image courtesy of CreateSpace © 2012; text Katie P., Austenprose.com