REVIEW: West End Earl (Misfits of Mayfair Book 2) by Bethany Bennett
While most young ladies attend balls and hunt for husbands, Ophelia Hardwick has spent the last ten years in disguise. As the land steward for the Earl of Carlyle, she’s found safety from the uncle determined to kill her and freedoms a lady could only dream of. Ophelia’s situation would be perfect—if only she wasn’t hopelessly attracted to her employer.
Calvin, Earl of Carlyle, is determined to see his sister married this season. And he’ll do it with the help of his trusted right-hand man. But when he finds out Ophelia’s secret, and that her life is in danger, his priorities change. Their attraction is passionate, all-consuming, and if they aren’t careful, it could turn downright deadly—for both of them.
Dear Bethany Bennett,
I picked up your book West End Earl, having no idea what it was about and never having read any of your other books. I was into the really bright and beautiful cover which featured a gorgeous yellow gown. The scene depicted was romantic, tender and lovely. Your book is all those things too.
West End Earl tells the story of Ophelia Hardwick, an orphan escaping a villainous uncle (a familiar trope). Disguising herself as a boy, she makes her own way in the world eventually ending up in the employ of the Earl of Carlyle. Going by the name of Adam, she is both Carlyle’s land steward and his friend. The book opens with a scene of Calvin and Adam at a ball, and Calvin is alternately confiding in his friend about his troubles and jokingly considering him as a match for his sister. This sets the tone for the easy camaraderie between the characters. You lay the foundation for their romance in a strong friendship. For reasons I won’t disclose, Ophelia’s secret is revealed very early on and the rest of the book revolves around three conflicts—one surrounding the hero’s sister, one surrounding Ophelia’s evil uncle and one internal conflict between Ophelia and Calvin.
Ophelia or Fee dresses as a man for protection. Her toughness, resilience and independence are hard won and you show in a very nuanced and serious way, the dangers and difficulties for an unprotected woman in 19th century England. You also show how Fee has achieved security but not love. She is profoundly alone.
When Ophelia’s uncle discovers her existence and begins to pursue her, putting her life in danger, she and Calvin flee to his country estate. There they share a steamy two weeks before the arrival of guests for a house party (there is a whole subplot around this that I cant say more about for fear of more spoilers!) Something happens at the house party that tears Calvin and Fee apart, and the way that story moves forward was a total shock to me. I did not see it coming but I sort of loved it!!!
The story has shades of Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night. Like Viola, Fee dresses as a boy for protection. Like her, she also falls in love with an aristocrat. And like Twelfth Night, the tone is more comedic than tragic. Fee is an unusual heroine for Regency Romance. I loved her—she was independent, clever, self-sufficient, sexy, in touch with her feelings and her body, but also vulnerable and soft. She is attracted to her employer, but she is never stupid. She acts in line with her life experience—and her life experience was both unusual and compelling. The backstory of how she comes to live her life in disguise was tragic and compelling, and what I loved most of all in this book was seeing her get her much deserved happy ending.
The hero, The Earl of Carlyle, is also an unusual and refreshing hero. He was sensitive, in touch with his feelings, open with his affection and so tender it melted my heart. I love stories with heroines in disguise, and I loved reading about a sensitive protective and not A-hole Regency hero. He wasn’t a rake or a libertine. Bennet finds a way to make responsibility and stability sexy.
This book isn’t without faults—there are a lot of anachronisms, and if you are a stickler for historical accuracy well then, this book isn’t for you. The Big Misunderstanding might have been avoided with some communication. The book is light on angst and sexual politics.
This is a delightful romp with some super steamy scenes and a very unusual couple. I highly recommend this book for its humor, tenderness and sweet love story and for its brave and compelling heroine.
My grade: A