How to Catch an Errant Earl
How to Catch an Errant Earl is the second in Amy Rose Bennett’s “Disreputable Debutantes” series. It has a loveable heroine but the hero is such a douchebag that I simply could not even.
The heroine of this novel is Miss Arabella Jardin. She is one of four friends who were expelled from Mrs. Rathbone’s Academy for Young Ladies of Good Character for “conduct unbecoming.” I assume we hear more about this in the first book. Arabella is forced to go on a Grand Tour during which she is chaperoned by truly appalling relatives. Arabella assumes she will never marry since she is of dubious birth, is a “bluestocking,” and is considered homely because she has gap teeth and wears glasses.
Who are all these heroines running around who are known for being unattractive until the hero realizes that they are the most beautiful woman ever? I find it baffling. There can’t possibly be that many homely but actually super-model-stunning women running around England. Also, people with glasses do in fact have to actually wear them. We can’t just whip them off every time we want to transform ourselves. We would be too dazzling. Mortals would not be able to handle it. We must wear our glasses for the common good.
Anyhow. Arabella is into medicine which endeared me to her no end. She has quite a bit of practical training thanks to her grandfather who let her follow him around (he was a doctor) and she hopes to open a foundling hospital one day (she was a foundling). She is pen pals with the encouraging Dr. Radcliffe, an un-glamourous man whom she has also met in person. How I dreamed, Dear Reader, of a romance about two people who open a hospital together. That would have been interesting. Alas, such is not to be, because the hero of the book is the permanently drunk rakish Earl of Langdale, Gabriel Holmes-Fitzgerald. I must review the book I have, not the book I wish to have, and the book I have is a massive disappointment because a romance cannot thrive on a heroine alone.
Gabriel is a Rakish Earl who somehow manages to be even more of a waste of space than all the other Rakish Earls in Romancelandia. He does all the rakish things – spends a lot of money, wastes his talents (he’s good at art), drinks to excess every night. He sleeps with women right up until they develop feelings for him, at which time he blames them for thinking he could have had feelings for them, and then he ghosts them or dumps them brutally. He loathes his cousin Timothy even though, as far as I can tell, Timothy does very little that Gabriel doesn’t do himself. There is a whole subplot about how Gabriel has to prove that his parents had a legal marriage or Timothy will take his title and I could not give two shits about it.
Gabriel and Arabella meet in Italy and within a day he’s compromising her in a situation that is only barely consensual given her lack of experience with men and her vulnerable position. They have a rushed wedding and, after having sex, Arabella says they can’t do that again until it’s time to make babies, because Gabriel will cheat on her (he’s told her as much). He sees sex as a game, whereas she has sex-induced Feelings and if she allows those feelings to develop then Gabriel will break her heart. Gabriel agrees that this is inevitably true although he wants to have fun sex anyway. The rest of the book is the sorting out of Feelings as obviously Gabriel has Feelings, too. He just couldn’t admit to them because he has Abandonment Issues which is why he was a rake to begin with.
Arabella is overall a good person and a solid character. She is competent in an emergency and has found a way to pursue her interests and do some good in the world despite her inability to be a doctor. She is naive and inexperienced and the mistakes she makes come from that place and are consistent with her character. She has the presence of mind and strength of character to tell Gabriel that he can’t sleep around until after they have children because she doesn’t want her kids to get syphilis. She’s a good person who is imperfect in ways that make sense. She does not use her abusive family, her social frustrations, or her own abandonment issues as a crutch.
Gabriel is a selfish, entitled ass. He’s super upset at the idea that he won’t be able to fuck around with other women until it’s time to make a baby. He has the unmitigated gall to try the blue balls maneuver:
You see, men are base creatures and have strong urges by and large. If we’re sexually aroused and don’t expend our seed regularly, our bollocks become quite painful and ache with the need for release.
For fuck’s sake, Gabriel. In the words of Smart Bitch Amanda, “No one cares about your stupid boner.” At least he gives Arabella some tips about masturbation; that’s nice of him.
Gabriel was raised by a physically and emotionally abusive father who teaches him that all he can do is spend money and fuck around. I get that. Arabella, who was also raised by abusive relatives and has the additional frustration of being unable to be a doctor due to her gender, spends her time thinking of how she can use her skills and privileges to help others. Gabriel starts the book whining because sleeping with a parade of beautiful women and living in a house made of money is dull.
Eventually Gabriel realizes that he’s in love with Arabella but not until a highly unbelievable crisis occurs. Frankly, I think he’ll dote on Arabella until the adrenaline wears off and then go back to pouting about something. For me, a successful romance must involve two (minimum) people to root for, not one, and as far as I’m concerned Gabriel is an irredeemable character whose realization and maturation is too sudden and too convenient. Dump him, Arabella. You deserve more.
I did like some aspects of this book. Arabella is an interesting character, as she combines naïveté with directness and bravery with regard to preserving her health and self-respect. I enjoyed the moments that explored medicine and charitable hospitals. The scenery is lovely and the references to Mary Shelley and Lord Byron are well done. I did read the whole book, but mostly because I kept expecting developments that never came. But despite some glimmers of enjoyment, this book was a disappointment.