Review: An Earl, the Girl, and a Toddler – Vanessa Riley
by Vanessa Riley
Series: Rogues and Remarkable Women #2
Also in this series: A Duke, the Lady, and a Baby
Publication Date: April 27, 2021
I received an advance review copy of this book from NetGalley. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.My rating:
A witty and moving story from the acclaimed author of A Duke, the Lady, and a Baby, about the lengths to which a woman will go for the love of her child…and the love of a man who knows her worth. Breaking with traditional Regency rules and customs, Vanessa Riley pens an unforgettable story perfect for fans of Julia Quinn’s Bridgerton, Evie Dunmore, and Eloisa James looking for something fresh and stirring!
Masterminded by the ton's most clever countess, the secret society The Widow's Grace helps ill-treated widows regain their reputations, their families, and even find true love again--or perhaps for the very first time...
Surviving a shipwreck en route to London from Jamaica was just the start of personal maid Jemina St. Maur's nightmare. Suffering from amnesia, she was separated from anyone who might know her and imprisoned in Bedlam. She was freed only because barrister Daniel Thackery, Lord Ashbrook, was convinced to betray the one thing he holds dear: the law. Desperate to unearth her true identity, Jemina's only option is to work outside the law--which means staying steps ahead of the formidable Daniel, no matter how strongly she is drawn to him...
Married only by proxy, now widowed by shipwreck, Daniel is determined to protect his little stepdaughter, Charlotte, from his family's scandalous reputation. That's why he has dedicated himself not just to the law, but to remaining as proper and upstanding--and boring--as can be. But the closer he becomes to the mysterious, alluring Jemina, the more Daniel is tempted to break the very rules to which he's dedicated his life. As ruthless adversaries close in, will the truth require him and Jemina to sacrifice their one chance at happiness?
Content warnings: View Spoiler »period typical racism, period typical misogyny, slavery, ableism, PTSD from shipwreck (nightmares about drowning) « Hide Spoiler
While I liked the first book in this series for the gothic-tinged craziness it was, I thought this one was so much better and much more reminiscent of the author’s earlier series. And that’s with the fact that I’m not a big fan of amnesia plots! But in this case, it adds a lot of angst and conflict to the relationship.
Jemina doesn’t remember anything about her life from before the time she spent in Bedlam. Rescued by the Widow’s Grace organization, she now helps out her best friend, Patience (the heroine of the first book), on clandestine missions to help other widows legally, including breaking into barristers’ offices in the middle of the night. Daniel is one of the few Black barristers in England and he’s constantly butting heads with people who look down on him for his race, including the Lord Mayor. The last thing he needs is to keep involving himself with his aunt and her highly illegal Widow’s Grace missions. He’s drawn to Jemina, who he helped rescue from Bedlam, but knows he can’t get too close to her due to secrets he’s keeping – secrets that may lead to her past and endanger his daughter, Hope. Jemina knows Daniel is hiding something, but can they both resist the attraction sparking between them long enough to find the answers?
“What is it you want from life?”
If I said my dearest wish, he’d laugh or he’d whisper he wished I had my dreams too. The man was good and annoying.
“What is your new dream?” he asked. “I hope you figure out what you want and seize the opportunity. A woman who knows what she wants is fierce, don’t you think?”
Jemina was haunted by her loss of memory. The fact that she couldn’t remember anything about her husband was particularly daunting, and it was made even worse by the fact that as a widow with a large dowry, she’s constantly being courted. Jemina sought out Daniel in hopes of finding out more about why he rescued her, and the revelation that she was in a shipwreck cause even more bits and pieces to come back. It’s obvious that Daniel knows more about the Minerva and her past than she does, but why is he hiding it?
“You’re very talkative. I can see how silence is a torment.”
“Did you deem me unworthy of knowing about the Minerva? I think your reticence is a type of empowerment.”
“You strung together all those thoughts by glancing at me, ma’am?”
I flung my palm, spreading out my fingers. The pinched skin still stung. “Yes. I must be a pawn to you, to be set aside or squished like a bug.”
I loved how much Daniel loved Hope. As a widower with a young child, Hope is his whole world (outside of work). It definitely humanized him a bit for me, as otherwise his refusal to help Jemina seemed callous at best. His early life was rough, but thanks to his own strength and his aunt’s help, he’s done quite well for himself. He’s very logical and even-keeled, though that doesn’t mean he won’t fight – or get revenge – for those he loves. It made it even funnier that the flirtation that first started as a way to distract Jemina from asking too many questions about the Minerva‘s shipwreck only served to reveal how strong the attraction between the two of them was. I thought the romance between the two of them was very sweet, with a good deal of angst, and lots of going back and forth on whether they could trust the other with their secrets. This was a closed door romance, so there’s not much heat to balance the angst, just a few on-page kisses.
“He stepped in front of her and headed down the hall. “Follow me.”
“Always, if I’m not leading.”
Besides the romance, I also loved the relationships both Daniel and Jemina had with Hope. I’m not a fan of plot moppets but Hope felt very realistic for a child of her age, especially her continued insistence that Jemina help her dolly ride on her horse! Jemina and Patience’s friendship was also truly heartwarming. I’m a sucker for found family and they truly are one. The worldbuilding was also fascinating. Despite being an Earl, Daniel is more solidly middle-class, and as a Black man, he faces a lot of challenges. There’s a lot of explanation of terms like “blackamoor” and “mulatto,” and, on the more positive side, small bits about prominent Black people in London. And, of course, there’s the usual lack of rights for women, from being committed to asylums by their families to losing control of their children during a divorce.
As for cons, the POV choices in these books continue to confuse me. Jemina’s is told from the first person POV while Daniel’s is in third person. The switch was jarring to me each time. For the most part, while I didn’t always agree with how Daniel handled Jemina’s amnesia and trauma aftereffects, I thought he was trying to be mindful of not hurting her further. There was only one instance (View Spoiler »where he sprung the trip to the hospital she was brought to immediately following the shipwreck on her « Hide Spoiler) that really bothered me.
Overall, I enjoyed the book quite a bit and will definitely be picking up the next book in the series.