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The blurb for The Earl's Mistress implies that Liz Carlyle has taken an interesting route when she wrote The Earl's Mistress. The words "darkest" and "most sensuous" are in the superlative, and one should anticipate the very steamy element that the author has added to her sex scenes. The themes of control and submission are highlighted early on -- which led me to think that this is Liz Carlyle writing as she has never written before.
Anthony, the Earl of Hepplewood, and Isabella Aldridge are both widowers, whose first marriages left their hearts wounded and wary. Neither one is looking for another marriage, or for another lasting relationship: Tony is looking for a governess for his young daughter, Lissie, and Isabella is looking for a way to support herself and her two sisters, and is applying for the position. But all good intentions fly out the window when Tony sees how beautiful and passionate Isabella is -- and impulsively offers her a different position: as his mistress. Isabella responds in the way ladies of gentle breeding do: with a rejection and a slap on the face. She leaves, thinking that was the end of it, but, for Tony, it is only the beginning.
"Your eyes are wide, your lips damp and slightly parted. Your gaze -- and a moment ago, your hands -- were drifting in directions that, strictly speaking, a lady's do not."
- loc 1064
Upon her return to London, Isabella is forced to take stock of her life and resources and realises that there might be some merits to Lord Hepplewood's proposal, and seeks the help of her former employer, La Seductrice, who discreetly makes inquiries for gentlemen looking for a mistress.
What happens next takes this story off its original axis: Isabella travels to meet her new protector, a Mr. Mowbrey, but, when she arrives at her destination, it is actually Lord Hepplewood who is waiting. The account of domination, submission, and spanking are quite jarring and I felt it took away a lot from the love story. I honestly feel it wasn't necessary and there was such a rich backstory to Tony and Isabella that would have made for a better conflict ... but I understand what the author intended to do. It's to push boundaries: I think, first, as an author (as a personal challenge, maybe? to see how far/deep she can take her story?), and then second, to push the boundaries of her own characters. Isabella is hiding in a shell, she really doesn't do much for herself because she devotes so much time to her two younger sisters -- but, with Tony, Isabella is able to feel and express herself completely. With Tony, she is able to focus on herself and her needs.
"I do decide, my lord," she said vehemently. "I will please you -- yes, I will uphold my end of any bargain -- but I am not nothing. I will not be ground beneath your boot heel. And I do not give you permission to call me that."
- loc 1250
There was a point in my reading when I had to put this book down because I wasn't sure where this story was headed: if this is about the courtship of a mistress and her protector, I didn't see much of it. In fact, it came as a surprise when Isabella realised that she had fallen in love with Tony. At that point, they had only been with each other a total of less than 3 times.
...Because she was in love with the Earl of Hepplewood. The reality of it had been pressing in upon her for some days now.
It was utter folly, of course. His intensity overwhelmed her. His dark edges frightened her. And yet she was in love with him, and his threat to pursue her had allowed her to go on hoping -- though hoping for what, she scarcely knew.
- loc 2914 - 2926
If this is about Tony introducing Isabella to the "darker" aspects of sex a la Fifty Shades of Grey, then it was done well -- but, this cannot be the whole point of the novel and the introduction of the idyllic scenes in the country with Tony, his daughter, Isabella, her sisters, and Anne and her brood, just left me confused (Read Chapters 14 - 18). (There's even a dog!) It felt out of place in a "dark" story --
At the heart of the story are two issues: Tony's past and Isabella's problems with her cousin, the current Baron Tafford -- Tony's problem is worked out within the story, and the confessional to Isabella (about his late wife, Felicity and the mysterious Diana Jeffers) was a true breakthrough for him, but Isabella's issues were a bit more vague. Her cousin wants to marry her, but she has refused him because he has an unnatural fondness for children -- there is hints of threats of kidnapping ... of plans being put into place, but all of it happens in the background. The only hints of this is a line or two referring to Jervis, the man Tony has hired to investigate the matter. Beyond that, there is no clear explication of this particular part of the plot.
When this part is finally explained in the end, I felt it was too little too late. (And I felt bad for Isabella who was left out in the dark and was not even informed of the possibility of danger).
Truncated storylines, uneven tone and atmosphere -- these made this a very bewildering read.
The Earl's Mistress is Book 10 in the MacLachlan Family & Friends series by Liz Carlyle and will be released today, August 26, 2014. To find out more about Liz Carlyle and her books, click below:
Disclosure: I received this ARC through Edelweiss. Thank you to Avon and Liz Carlyle for the opportunity. Yes, this is an honest review.