Review: The Earl’s Promised Bride by Mary Lancaster (2024)

Posted March 2, 2024 by Mary Kingswood in Review / 0 Comments

This is a bit of a curate’s egg of a book for me — some parts that were meltingly romantic, some parts that were ho hum, some parts that were out-of-the-blue shocking (OK, to me, anyway) and some parts that were boringly predictable. And a couple of parts where I just wanted to bang heads together and say: just talk to each other, for heaven’s sake. But you know what? After a slow start, I just tore through it, so the author has me right where she wants me, I guess.

Here’s the premise: Lucy Vale was betrothed at birth to an earl she’s never met, purely because their mothers were best friends and thought it would be a good idea. Well, okay, I suppose. By the Regency, we’re well into an age when betrothals of that nature aren’t even legal, let alone binding on either party, so why they don’t just laugh at the quaintness of it is beyond me. But that’s the premise of the book, so whatever. The mysterious Earl of Eddleston has requested a meeting with his ‘betrothed’, but he hasn’t yet appeared. Lucy isn’t minded to give him the time of day, but if he comes, she’ll have to be civil to him, she supposes. Then she can reject him and her life will be her own again.

While she’s waiting for her supposed betrothed to appear, she attends the Blackhaven ball with the rest of her family, where she meets a mysterious stranger. This is one of the good parts of the book for me — the description of Tyler, and his interactions with Lucy, were breathtakingly fabulous. He’s not even the sort of character I usually like (that whole almost magically clever and perceptive and creative and acrobat-level agile is all too much; I prefer my heroes a bit more down to earth). But the author was going for just that out-of-the-ordinary vibe, and she succeeded in spades. In fact, all the scenes with just Lucy and Tyler were wonderful. I wasn’t so keen on Tyler the guy who’s planning to change the world for the better, but that’s just me.

But of course we have to have a subplot, so step forward Miss Hester Poole, heiress, and her fortune-hunting suitor, Mr Harold Irving. It isn’t long before Lucy is getting herself into the middle of a situation that’s really nothing to do with her, because she doesn’t like Mr Irving and wants to protect Hester from him. And Tyler seems to have the same idea (as well as a myriad other projects — he’s a busy boy).

One of the ho hum parts arises purely from the premise of the series. Everything is constructed around a single night, when all the various Vale children meets their matches, so as Lucy’s story is unfolding, we’re also getting snippets of the other stories, where they cross and recross Lucy’s. We see little bits of Julius’s story, which was book 1, and there are glimpses of the other Vales, like Cornelius and Delilah, who are also busy about their own lives. And because there was a whole huge series set in Blackhaven previously, there are swathes of characters from those books with walk-on parts. It would be really helpful if readers could have a) a full list of the Vale children, their ages and parentage (because some of them are illegitimate); and b) a list of characters from earlier books still lurking in odd corners of Blackhaven, because I don’t remember them, and frankly I don’t see that they add anything to the story. But maybe I’m being churlish just because I have trouble with this.

I’m not going to talk about the out-of-the-blue shocking thing, because that’s just me. I should have guessed it, but I had such a mental disparity between… let’s say, two things, that I never would have guessed the truth.[1] There was another revelation that was blindingly obvious to me regarding Hester Poole, so I’m not totally oblivious to clues. Only some of them.

But this is the point where the book went slightly off the rails for me, because when the revelations happened, both Lucy and Hester made totally stupid decisions, and that was the point where I wanted both of them to just sit down and talk things through, instead of jumping off cliffs (metaphorically speaking). And as if that wasn’t enough, we have to have that hoary old chestnut, the Elopement. Because it’s a Regency romance so there has to be an Elopement or a Kidnapping or a Highwayman, or possibly all three.

I know all these grumbles sound as if I didn’t enjoy the book at all, but that’s not true. I took a while to get into it, but after that I read it avidly, and yes, I thoroughly enjoyed it. My grumbles are just me saying ‘It would have been perfect if only…’. Mary Lancaster’s writing is as polished as ever, she does the swoony kisses brilliantly, and if the sex scene felt a bit gratuitous, it was tastefully done. The only historical glitch I noticed concerned the postilions and hired horses, which don’t work quite the way the author thinks they do.[2] But who cares? It all made for a good story. A good four stars.



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