My review contains spoilers and they're mostly my thoughts as I went with the book...
I was introduced to Evelyn Pryce’s writing thru a sometimes funny, yet sexy and dramatic little debut novel called A Man Above Reproach. The book was quite surprising TBH; unpredictable and kept me hooked till the end. Evelyn’s writing was simple, yet elegant and smooth. I was impressed with this debut author.
Fast forward 3 something years. I waited... and waited some more. There was no news of a new book or even a sequel to A Man Above Reproach. That one had some interesting secondary characters just waiting to tell their stories! I wasn’t sure why she wasn’t publishing anymore but RL happens and we get caught up in it. So when I heard she’s (finally!) publishing another novel this year, I was intrigued beyond words. I was thinking it maybe the anticipated sequel....... However, it’s not. It’s a completely new story which has no ties to AMAR. Can’t say I’m not disappointed but hey, I found that The Thirteenth Earl was a fab story and Jonathan could still manage to be adorable even with all his vulnerabilities surrounding him like a dark mantle.
Much like A Man Above Reproach, The Thirteenth Earl was a smooth and elegant read. The story isn’t very long, but it’s longer than your average novella where Evelyn manages to keep you entertained even within the short storyline and a limited setting.
As we read, we find that it all happened in a country house party thrown by Percival, the Earl of Spencer and his new wife, Eliza, Lady Spencer. They’re a lovely couple, an obvious love-match (Right now I’m hating that I don’t know what exactly he botched up while trying to woo Eliza... I want to read their story too :<), who can’t keep their eyes off of each-other, among other things that is. What they didn’t expect was that their first house party thrown as a married couple would change some lives irrevocably.
Jonathan Vane, Viscount Thaxton, was invited not because of his unsavory reputation as someone who is going mad (according to the gossip because it’s his so-called family legacy), not because he’s known as The Ghost (a man no one sees much in the society, who is also, morbidly fascinated by death and does everything short of a suicide to call it onto him) but solely because he’s Percival’s closest of buddies, his childhood friend. Through everything, Percival has supported Jonathan, though he has no idea how to pull the man out of this miasma of despair he seems to cling on to.
Jonathan is handsome, or would be if he’d stop drinking, eat more and clean up a little. He’d always known he’d be mad because “it runs in the family”. His father is mad, has been ever since his mother died in childbirth—while giving birth to him. Jonathan has no other siblings so he’s the sole issue; heir and spare and everything that matters. And he’s been anticipating his death even before he knew what life really was. After all, his beloved father told him to never to fall in love. So Jonathan has decided never to marry and continue Vane line. He’s determined it’ll die with him, and so would the “family curse”. No more mad Earl roaming the hallways, no more Countess Vanes dying, snuffed out of their lives for one too young.
Enter Cassandra Seton, daughter of an Earl, who doesn’t want the honorifics. The fiancée of Jonathan’s most hated cousin, Miles, who is now rusticating somewhere in Scotland. Who hasn’t been around to see his fiancée for the past 9 yrs. or so. Eh, why would Jonathan care? As it turns out, he’s forced to care because he finds that Miss Seton has set his heart on fire! :p Cassandra is beautiful, smart and straightforward. No simpering miss is our Miss Seton, nah-uh! She calls a spade a spade and never backs off. The only thing she dislikes is communicating with her step-mother who’d love it dearly if she can boot Cassandra out of the house. Hence, this marriage that was made when both Miles and Cassandra were barely out of the cradle, is going to take place whether the parties involved liked it or not.
Cassandra is supremely unhappy. It seems Miles is returning “home” to claim his bride. Well, Cassandra could care less. There was a time when they were very young and she was most impressionable, she thought Miles handsome and charming. But that was before he ran away to Scotland with the excuse to “restore his father’s dilapidating mansion” and stayed there, leaving Cassandra to face all the snickering and cruel comments... worst of all, the pity because her fiancé, it seemed, had abandoned her. So Cassandra could care less about Miles’s prodigal return. However, she has no idea how to extricate herself from this situation.
The answer was Jonathan Vane, but not quite. When Cassandra met him, she thought he’s unkempt, possesses a glib tongue; definitely no gentleman. She’d also heard of his “reputation”, some of it is courtesy of Miles himself, had also been warned by her stepmother to stay away from him. Yet, the more she gets to know him, Cassandra found that the man underneath all that witticisms is in pain. And in despair. Everything he does is to hide away from the real world. And though Jonathan thought he’d find pity in Cassandra’s eyes, which would’ve killed him anyway (hence granting his wish), he’s relieved to find that that’s not how she feels about it all. By then, Cassandra knew her match with Miles to be the worst possible thing ever. It wasn’t just because of his abandonment of her for such a long time, but because of who Miles really is; a whiny brat. He does whatever he wants, never considering the repercussions of his actions. And he’s callous as hell! Cassandra is nothing but a property in his eyes. She’s not even sure if this is the Miles she’d known from before or he’d changed in Scotland. The answer came from Jonathan. Nope, Miles had always been a brat and a bully and caused many griefs to Jonathan when they were boys.
As the story progressed, our H and h find themselves in a fine dilemma. They’re attracted to each-other, no question about it. Their stolen kisses told them far more than words could have. Yet they had clue what to do about it. Cassandra, by then, had no intentions of marrying Miles and Jonathan had no intentions of letting it happen either. They didn’t know how to go about it seeing his own reputation won’t make him a good husband material. And he’d rather die first than seeing Cassandra dying so young before his eyes. Or marrying Miles Markwick (hear him growl even at the possibility :p). What to do? WHAT to do?
As it happens, Miles himself, unwittingly, creates an opportunity for Jonathan and Cassandra when he brings his Scottish mistress, Lucy, there under the ruse of spirit calling. A wail in the middle night had everyone concerned of the “Ghost” of Spencer House and they needed to find out more. A séance was in order and who better than Lucy, who was a known medium in Scotland? Or so Miles had claimed. Things would go awry from there, one thing after another happening... even an almost duel :o, and it has nothing and everything to do with a Ghost. ;)
Want to know more? Go ahead and give The Thirteenth Earl a try. Once again, another read from Evelyn that had me surprised when I was least expecting it. The best thing for me was that in such a short span and limited setting, how Evelyn managed to give me not only a complete set of characters, but also a story where the HEA was extremely believable, even considering the fact that the H and the h just met in that house party. It wasn’t even a love at first sight but oh boy, when it developed, it just did and swept them away! Jonathan was no alpha a$$; he was just a man who fell in love and didn’t know where else to look. There was only Cassandra and he was possessive of her. Cassandra understood him, sympathized with him... and she couldn’t love him any more even if she tried. Even when he and Miles were being obnoxious, head-butting like 2 school boys. I gotta say I probably would’ve loved a few more chapters but I’m not at all unhappy the way everything resolved in the end. 4 stars.
I heard there’d be a sequel? Eagerly waiting for it!