Click here to pre-order the book on Amazon (Release date: September 29, 2015)
Click here to pre-order the paperback from The Book Depository
When I look through Zoe Archer's bibliography, I see a list of romance stories that always have an unconventional twist to them -- so, when I discovered that Zoe Archer was writing a set of Regency romances, I knew I wanted to read them -- no, needed to read them.
Zoe Archer debuts as Eva Leigh in Forever Your Earl, the first book in her The Wicked Quills of London series. I had wondered about the "quills" in the series title, and was delighted to discover that the series centers on heroines who write. E. Hawke is the editor of The Hawk's Eye, a London newspaper that features the scandalous lifestyle of the titled and wealthy -- the hot topic being, Daniel Balfour, Lord Ashford.
And Daniel is tired of having his exploits splashed on to the front pages daily. He needs to gain a bit of anonymity as he searches for his childhood friend, Jonathan, a veteran of the war, and the new Duke of Holcombe, who walked away from his life and disappeared into the underbelly of London. Daniel walks into E. Hawke's office, fully intending to threaten the man and insist that he stop printing these stories about him, but, when Daniel discovers that E. Hawke is, actually, Eleanor Hawke, his plan changes. He invites Eleanor to join him in his "adventures" -- the plan is a bit vague, but, then again, it was conceived quite quickly, and I don't think even Daniel had time to think it through.
Daniel hopes that he could control and regulate what is written about him, and also intends for Eleanor to act as a cover while he discreetly investigates his friend's disappearance. He needs to keep his investigation a secret, but he hadn't counted on Eleanor to be so clever and so distracting.
What is refreshing in Eva Leigh's novel is the characterization of the hero and heroine. Yes, they are opposites, but I hadn't expected Eleanor to be the "cold" to Daniel's "hot" -- Eleanor had a difficult childhood, and has learned that sentiment has no place in her life. She's very business-minded and practical. Daniel is the one who embraces life and really cares for the people around him. His reputation as a rake is well-earned, but there's a side of him that is also misunderstood by the public. It's the enormous guilt he carries over what happened to his friend that is the first glimpse into a different side of our hero --
"To Ride with a Rake." she pronounced.
He winced. Of all the names he'd been called in his life -- "rogue," "prodigal," libertine" -- rake had always been one of his least favorite. It implied a certain leering, cheap smuttiness. "We don't need to use that word."
- loc 296
I was very intrigued by Jonathan's disappearance, and more intrigued about his younger sister, Catherine, who isn't "out" yet, but who has been helping Daniel in his search. In the first half of the novel, the search for Daniel is put on the back burner as the author develops the relationship between Daniel and Eleanor. It becomes an active part in the latter half of the story, and it does wonders in building up the momentum and driving the story further along.
Not that the first half of the story is any weaker -- Eleanor becomes are backstage pass into the life of a gentleman of wealth and leisure. There are a lot of points for reflection as Eleanor discovers how very, very differently the world is for a man and a woman. It's a sad reality that women in Regency times didn't have as many opportunities as the men, but it is a testament to Eleanor's intelligence to have defied convention and built a business for herself.
Again, Eleanor looked into the mirror. She stood, agog, at her change. She'd entered the Imperial Theater as a woman, but now she was a young man of means and fashion. For several moments, all she could do was stare at herself.
Who was she? She felt oddly lost within this masculine persona, as if Eleanor had disappeared and a strange man had taken her place. Except the strange man was her.
"Oh, Eleanor,: Maggie said on an exhale, her face aglow, "just think of the trouble you could het into."
"That's right," Eleanor said after a moment. "I'm a man now. I can do ... anything."
- loc 636 - 652
Then there is her friend, Maggie, who is the heroine of the second book in the Wicked Quills series. Maggie is a playwright, and Eleanor's only friend. She is determined to write a play that she knows will scandalize the London theater scene -- and she's excited to do so. I know that I will definitely like her. She was very loyal to Eleanor, and showed how well she understood her friend. I love that she owns a theater! ^_^
Forever Your Earl is the first book in Eva Leigh's The Wicked Quills of London series, and her debut novel*. It will be released on September 29, 2015. To find out more about Eva Leigh, click below:
*She is previously published as Zoe Archer. To find out more about Zoe Archer and her books, click below:
Disclosure: I received this ARC through Edelweiss. Thank you to Avon and Eva Leigh for the opportunity. Yes, this is an honest review.