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REVIEW: The Revenge of Lord Eberlin by Julia London

Dear Ms. London—

I really enjoyed your latest novel, The Revenge of Lord Eberlin. Recently, thanks to the many thoughtful and well-written reviews here at Dear Author, I’ve been reading books out of what I think of as my comfort zone. And it’s been great. I loved Heat, disliked Beautiful Disaster, and am reading my first M/M romance. But my first love in romance is the historical and this entry into your The Secrets of Hadley Green series was a great reading date. It’s completely traditional, uses tropes common to historical romance, and even has an epilogue, a currently en vogue plot device I usually deplore. It’s set in one of those common and oft annoying British small towns full of judgmental old women and lavish estates kept running smoothly by a servant class completely satisfied with their lowered status in life. I loved it.

The Revenge of Lord Eberlin by Julia LondonI’ve read the first book in the series, The Year of Living Scandalously, and thought it pretty good. That book begins when the heroine of this book, Lily Boudine, is eight. Lily, an orphan, lives with her uncle and aunt, at Ashwood, a palatial estate in the small West Sussex town of Hadley Green. It is the summer of 1793 and the night of the annual Ashwood gala. Lily sees two things that night that change the lives of many. The first is a couple whom she can’t quite make out embracing in the shadows on the stairs. The second, which she sees just a few minutes later, is a horse trotting away into the night. Lily recognizes the horse; it’s that of Mr. Scott, the woodcarver who has spent many an hour at Ashwood carving the detailed dual staircase that dominates the mansion’s main entry. She wonders why he would have been at Ashwood—the gala is for the Quality and Joseph Scott is certainly not that.

In the morning, Lily awakes to commotion. A dreadful theft has happened. Sometime during the night, someone pilfered the Ashwood jewels, a set of large priceless rubies given to the first Lord Ashwood by Edward the IV for the former’s loyalty during the War of the Roses. As Lily watches her beloved governess be questioned unsympathetically, she blurts out, “I think I know who took them.” She tells of seeing Mr. Scott riding away and, within days, Mr. Scott is hanged for the crime.

The Revenge of Lord Eberlin also begins in a summer, this one in 1808. For the first time in fifteen years, Tobin Scott, now 28, the eldest son of Joseph Scott, has returned to Hadley Green. The past years were harsh ones for the Scotts. His father’s execution destroyed his family; his mother and youngest brother died within a year of his father’s death, ruined by filth and poverty in the slums of London. Unable to provide for his younger sister Charity, Tobin took her to a church run poorhouse where she found work as a chamber maid. Tobin himself was impressed into service on a ship as a cook’s helper and, for ten years, sailed the world, never knowing whether or not his sister lived.

Tobin, though, like all heroes, is a survivor and now has all the trappings of success. He’s Lord Eberlin—he bought the title from a beleaguered Dane—and has unlimited wealth earned as an arms trader. He’s rescued Charity (and her illegitimate daughter) from a life of cleaning the refuse of others. He has everything he’s ever wanted except for the one thing he desires most: revenge on the house of Ashwood, currently headed by Lily Boudine.

I liked Tobin. He is, for much of the book, a complete and utter dick. He’s unethical, cold, manipulative, and cares little for the destruction he leaves in his wake. Even were he not seeking to ruin Ashwood, he’d still be a pitiless, bitter man. He is so damaged by his past he hasn’t the ability to feel or value joy, empathy, and compassion. He’s like the Grinch, but worse; rather than having a heart two sizes too small, Tobin hasn’t one at all. And yet, you make him exceedingly alluring. To begin with, he’s smart and interesting—his plans to destroy Ashwood are well-thought out and intricately planned. His complete lack of shame allows him to say whatever the hell he wants and much of what he says is great fun to read. He’s also sexy as hell.

When Tobin returns to Hadley Green, he buys and then pours oodles of his ill-gotten gains into building an estate to rival any in England. His home, Tiber Park, has every luxury imaginable. In contrast, Ashwood is on the brink of bankruptcy and Lily, though a countess, is sinking into poverty. In fact, Lily’s life pretty much sucks.

Lily’s childhood was, in general, a sad one. Her parents died when she was little, and although she was happy during the few years she spent at Ashwood, after she accused Tobin’s father, she was sent to Ireland and never again saw her beloved aunt, Lady Ashwood. While in Ireland, she lived with her cousins, one of whom, Keira, is the heroine of The Year of Living Scandalously. Kiera spent several months at Ashwood, prior to Lily’s arrival there, pretending to be Lily (this made sense—readers who wonder at this simply need to read the first book), and now the villagers of Hadley Green distrust Lily and, in general shun her. Her only close friend is a charming child, Lucy, who is leaving Lily for Ireland to live with Kiera and her husband. Lily is lonely, terrified she’ll fail all those who depend on Ashwood for their livelihoods, and helpless to stop Tobin’s ruination of all she has. I liked her as well. She too is smart; but where Tobin cares for nothing, Lily cares not only for those around her, but for herself. She longs for love, children, joy, and passion with a fervor that, given she has so little of those in her life, is heart-breaking.

When Lily realizes Lord Eberlin is actually Tobin, the boy with whom she played as a child and whose father was hung on her word, she is horrified to learn the tragedies her accusation caused. But she, sanely, sees what she did as a confused eight year old doesn’t give Tobin the right to annihilate either her or her home. She tells him his revenge is unfair and he tells her he doesn’t care, but, he’ll give her a chance at redemption. He’ll stop his ruination of Ashwood if she’ll let him completely ruin her.

“Shall I say it plainly?’ he murmured. “I propose to have your virtue… or I will have Ashwood. The choice is yours.”

Like I said, your hero’s a dick.

But he is, to Lily, an arousing dick and she, after giving it some thought, agrees to his proposition. She, of course, hopes to somehow dally with him without giving up her virginity, but, you make it clear, from their first kiss, she will find that damned difficult to do. I loved the heat between Lily and Tobin. You make the desire they feel for one another palpable. This is a book that made my heart race and my skin tingle. You write wonderfully sensuous love scenes. Each time they touch, Lily, Tobin–and I–long for the two to become lovers.

In some ways, the expected happens. As Lily and Tobin spend time together, he slowly–very slowly–regains his humanity and his heart. He and Lily are hampered by the past and both work to free themselves–Lily from her guilt and Tobin from his black bitterness. When, by the book’s end, Tobin is again able to care and Lily is given the love she’s longed for, it’s lovely.

I don’t mean to imply, however, the book is without aspects unusual in historical romance. Unlike many small towns found in Regency romance, the people of Hadley Green aren’t especially likable. Many are petty, selfish, and annoying. They behaved horribly to Tobin’s family when his father hung and are nasty to Lily despite all her efforts on their behalf. Lily loves Lucy and suffers for that love. And, no matter what choice Lily and Tobin make, a match between the two will never be one that does anything but lower Lily in the eyes of her peers. Tobin never truly pays the piper for his sins and his sister, Charity, never finds peace. These deviations make the book stand out in a genre where saccharine convention is too often the norm.

The only part of the book I found lacking is the tale of those rubies. We are only two novels into the series; already, this plot line is wearing thin. This book offers little new or exciting information about the mysteries of the past. It’s clear Mr. Scott was not the thief and that someone, somewhere, has those damn jewels. Their whereabouts leaves me unconcerned and I’ve a hard time imagining an entire series built around their pursuit.

All in all, though, The Revenge of Lord Eberlin was a terrific read. I love a well-written, sexy, moving Regency romance and you, Ms. London, have written just that.  It’s almost perfect and thus, I give it a strong B+.

Thank you,

Dabney

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I loved romances when, back in the mid 70's, in junior high, I read every Barbara Cartland novel I could check out from the library. Then, thanks to a savvy babysitter, I got my hands on the hot stuff. To this day I can remember how astonishingly steamy I found Rosemary Rogers' Sweet Savage Love. I abandoned romance when I went to college and didn't pick one up again until 2007 when I got my first Kindle. Since then, I’ve read countless romances; loved many, liked more, hated some. Most of what I read is historical and contemporary romance, but I’m open to almost any genre. I like my books to have sizzle, wit, and plots that make sense. I’d take sexy over sweet any day. I’m a sucker for smart heroes and smart-mouthed heroines. When not reading or writing about reading, or wishing I could rule the world, I'm meddling in the lives of my kids--I have four, ages 17 to 21--, managing my husband's practice, doing bossy volunteer work, and hanging out with Dr. Feelgood.

20 Comments

  1. Danielle D
    Feb 23, 2012 @ 06:58:29

    I can’t wait to read this book. Thanks for the review.

  2. Diane
    Feb 23, 2012 @ 09:15:56

    I am so not a historical reader!!!

  3. Dabney
    Feb 23, 2012 @ 09:53:13

    @Diane: Do you say that because this book sounds awful to you?

  4. Sunita
    Feb 23, 2012 @ 11:55:32

    From your description, I don’t think I would describe this guy as a dick. I think of dicks as men who behave badly because they are immature, or they have douche-y personalities. Given what he went through (family tragedy, loss and suffering of loved ones, personal suffering, etc. etc.), he sounds more like the Count of Monte Cristo, or one of Edith Layton’s heroes. And I do like a good revenge romance.

    Also, what was the point of buying a Danish title in the book? Wouldn’t they still see him as a mushroom in a small English village (or a large English city, for that matter), i.e., the equivalent of a Nabob?

  5. Dabney
    Feb 23, 2012 @ 11:59:54

    @Sunita: I guess your definition of a dick is different than mine. I think of dicks as guys who are selfish and cruel, interested in only their well-fare. He begins the book as that kind of dick–completely because of his past–and then becomes a good guy.

    He buys the title just so he can say he’s a peer. And, while it wouldn’t really fly in London, the people in the small town are, in general, impressed.

  6. Bren
    Feb 23, 2012 @ 12:27:39

    “In contrast, Ashwood is on the brink of bankruptcy and Lily, though a countess, is sinking into poverty. ”

    Did I read that right? She’s a countess but she’s not/never been married? How did that happen?

  7. EmilyW
    Feb 23, 2012 @ 12:28:18

    I read her Desperate Debutantes trilogy a few years ago and really liked the first two but barely got through the third. For me, she’s one of those authors who isn’t the greatest of writers, but yet I still enjoy her own unique “voice.” I’ve been meaning to read more of hers but I’m only interested in her historicals, not her contemporaries which she focused on for quite awhile. I’ll have to give this series a try.

  8. Sunita
    Feb 23, 2012 @ 12:40:39

    @Bren: Yeah, I wondered about that too. Also, I’m wondering how period-authentic Tobin & Ruben are as first names for artisan-class English kids.

    I just read the sample and I would categorize this guy as a classic revenge hero. You know, the kind who is humanized once more by the love of a good (virgin) woman. But I like this type. I keep rereading The Count of Monte Cristo hoping it all turns out in the end.

    Thanks for the review, Dabney.

    ETA: I’m categorizing the hero just from the sample, I haven’t read the whole book, obviously. So I could be totally wrong.

  9. Melissa
    Feb 23, 2012 @ 15:45:48

    The plot, as described, reminds a bit of the beginning of Ian McEwan’s Atonement. I feel like having that comparison in my head will set me up for disappointment…

    @Dabney:
    You mention that you don’t usually like epilogues and that this book has one. Did it work here?

  10. Maili
    Feb 23, 2012 @ 16:17:51

    @Sunita:

    Also, what was the point of buying a Danish title in the book? Wouldn’t they still see him as a mushroom in a small English village (or a large English city, for that matter), i.e., the equivalent of a Nabob?

    Any title is good — as long as the title carrier is the right sort, e.g. no carrying out any funny business that would confuse, perplex or embarrass the villagers. And if there is any, best to do it behind the door. :D

    Seriously though, most villagers would be relieved if there is someone who could buy and restore an empty estate because a) no one likes seeing empty large properties and b) a long-term restoration is a great booster for the local economy (domestic service, carpenters, stonemasons, game-keeping, food producers, etc.), even if the new owner seems tacky for favouring luxury over taste. Plus, the owner’s existence would mean fresh fodder for local gossip. With all this in mind, I’d imagine villagers don’t mind foreign titles.

    Great review, by the way, Dabney.

  11. Maili
    Feb 23, 2012 @ 16:21:23

    Oh, crap. I wrote ‘restoration’ when I mean ‘renovation’. My brain works in a funny way sometimes. Sorry.

  12. Jennie
    Feb 23, 2012 @ 17:10:12

    Not having read the book, I have no opinion on whether Tobin is a dick or not, but the set-up sounds heavy – very heavy – to me. I mean, if Lily accused the father in error, and all of those horrible things happened as a result, it’s hard for me to imagine a convincing HEA for Lily and Tobin. I wouldn’t *blame* her, really – she was a child – but it just seems like something that would horrifically damage one’s life. I can’t imagine finding love with one of the victims of such a mistake.

  13. etv13
    Feb 24, 2012 @ 01:26:33

    @Jennie: From the description in the review, it sounds like Lily didn’t do anything that would have been blameworthy even if she had been an adult. She reported truthfully what she saw. And Tobin sounds like more than a dick to me. Even if his desire for revenge is understandable, it is wildly misplaced. The truly blameworthy person is whoever stole the jewels and then let Tobin’s father take the fall.

  14. Dabney
    Feb 24, 2012 @ 09:35:54

    @Melissa It’s not a bad epilogue. It does’t exist to spell out the future; its function is to show how deeply Tobin loves Lily and how much he has come to share her values. And, don’t worry, this book is nothing like Atonement, a book I love but whose epilogue I loathe.

  15. Dabney
    Feb 24, 2012 @ 09:39:55

    @etv13 I’m with you. I think the most interesting part of the stolen gems story is who let an innocent guy take the drop. There’s lots in this book about a love affair between Tobin’s father and Lily’s aunt. The latter drowned within weeks of the hanging, either murdered or by her own hand.

  16. Sirius
    Feb 24, 2012 @ 10:18:28

    @Jennie: I actually often get VERY blood firsty when I read stories like this lol and often hope the revenge would succeed. Sunita mentioned Count Monte Kristo, which is one of my favorite books in the whole world and I always cheer for Dantes and have absolutely no problem with his revenge over those who wronged him. So I dont know either, I may even blame Lily, child or not. Yeah, blood firsty (unfairness like this is one of my few hot buttons when I read fiction, this book just seems like a good example), so I am wondering now, I am looking for my monthly dose of good het romance (which is usually a book chosen from Dear author reviews), but I am afraid that my sympathies would lie solely with hero and I would not buy their happy ending . Dabney, thank you for the great review, off to read some more and choose eventually :)

  17. etv13
    Feb 24, 2012 @ 12:11:34

    @Sirius: So you think Lily is blameworthy for saying truthfully what she saw with her own eyes? You think she should have just kept silent about what she saw and potentially let her governess take the fall?

  18. Sirius
    Feb 24, 2012 @ 12:23:55

    @etv13: I have not read the book, I dont know how I would react, what I do know however is that several times fictional situations similar to this one have me react viscerally and with sympathy to those who was absolutely blameless in this situation. Does it make sense? My reaction, I mean, I am not asking of course to agree with me, just hoping I am explaining myself adequately. I mean, Lily *was* wrong because obviously Thomas’ father was blameless and because of her (of course first and foremost because of real thief) child’s happiness, his family was ruined. Sure she was a child (although at eight I knew that I was not supposed to put a blame on somebody for something unless I am absolutely sure the person did it and of course I never was in the situation where the stakes are that high), but other child was completely blameless and in the situations like this, my emotions just take over and my sympathies are completely on the side of somebody whose life was ruined, if that makes sense. Of course in real life I would not react that way, but in fiction I often do.

    Usually in the discussions about revenge in fiction I mention Tigana by Guy Gavriel Kay to hopefully explain how I react to situations similar in spirit to this one. I mean, the situation there was completely different, and I do not know if you have read it, but basically

    SPOILER TO FOLLOW ABOUT TIGANA

    the leader of the good guys, who are on a very admirable mission decides that in order to fulfill the very good goal he needs to enslave somebody, and the fact that the person has nothing to do with them, just does not matter to him. I hated him with the passion, I could care less for his mission and his goal and spend the rest of the book hoping that somebody would kill him and all his gang and not necessarily painlessly.

    And as I said, Count of Monte Cristo, never I thought that his revenge was excessive or anything like that, I felt bad that he endured so much and was betrayed by everybody, but I never thought that he should have forgiven those who betrayed him. IMO of course.

  19. Reading List by Dabney for the last couple of weeks
    Apr 27, 2012 @ 12:52:11

    […] book, the last in a series of three. I liked the first book, The Year of Living Scandalously, and I loved The Revenge of Lord Eberlin. I hated this book. It was unrelentingly sad, the heroine is abused and raped by her alcoholic […]

  20. The Last Debutante by Julia London
    Mar 31, 2013 @ 08:02:06

    […] Scandalously, failed to grab my attention. I liked the second, The Revenge of Lord Eberlin (my review is here) and actively disliked the third, The Seduction of Lady X. This one, The Last […]

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