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  • Writer's pictureCatherine Bilson

First Earl I See Tonight by Anna Bennett

Miss Fiona Hartley is desperate. She has two weeks to come up with an enormous sum of money for a blackmailer or see her beloved sister ruined forever. Frightened to burden her sick father, there seems only one option open to her - marry in haste and to an obliging husband who will let her use a portion of her enormous dowry for her own purposes.

The only man she knows who ticks all the boxes is Gray, Earl of Ravenport, well known to be strapped for cash with an enormous, crumbling estate to renovate. So she writes him a letter of proposal.

On receipt of said letter, Gray’s reaction is outright rejection, but the more he thinks about it and the better he comes to know Fiona, the more he starts to think it’s not as insane an idea as it originally seemed. He has secrets in his own past, though, which could yet come into play to keep him and Fiona apart.

While the writing and the characterisation in this book are excellent, there are just a few too many incredulity-straining plot points and outright historical inaccuracies here for me to really recommend this one. Why, for example, did the blackmailer target Fiona, a debutante with no real access to ready cash, instead of her extremely wealthy father, or her sister Lily, the one who had most to lose here? And then there was another bonkers development with the blackmailer when he ordered Fiona not to marry Gray right as she was about to do so and get his money!

The inaccuracy that bothered me the most, though, was the insistence that if Gray’s father’s suicide became public knowledge, he’d lose his title and estate, which was just not so. They would only have reverted to the Crown if the former earl had died without an heir or was attainted for treason. Frankly, Fiona believing this just made her look stupid and uneducated, when the author had spent a good deal of time convincing us she was neither of those things.

I really liked Fiona’s passion for her art and the way she showed insight through it, and Gray’s love for his grandmother and his ancestral home, The Fortress, was a really nice part of his character. Fiona’s relationship with her sister Lily and their best friend Serena was enjoyable too; I’m tired of the trope of all other women but the heroine being Evil.

Gray did fall into that unfortunate hole I see way too often in historical romance, of declaring to the heroine right off that he Can Never Love Her because Love Hurts Too Much. I swear my eyes always roll back in my head when I see that, if any man ever said that to a woman in real life I think she’d probably do the exact same thing, too. It’s totally nonsensical and it’s inevitably proven wrong when the hero realises he’s fallen totally for her anyway.

As I say, I struggled with this one because there was some beautiful writing, the love scenes were tastefully done, and I enjoyed the characters, but the plot was a bit of a hot mess. In the end, I’m going to go with three and a half stars.

I received a copy of this book for review through NetGalley and was invited to participate in the blog tour by St. Martin’s Press.

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