>> Tuesday, February 21, 2017
Humphrey Westcott, Earl of Riverdale, has died, leaving behind a fortune that will forever alter the lives of everyone in his family—including the daughter no one knew he had...I still haven't finished reading Balogh's previous series, the Survivors' Club (I liked the first books well enough, but the latest seemed to have lost a bit momentum), but I was tempted by this, the first book in a new series. Part of it was also that my mum, a huge Balogh fan, told me she was about to start it and how about we read it at the same time? Living so far away means that the opportunities for mother-daughter activities are scarce, so I couldn't resist that. This was while I was in Uruguay and spending about 10 hours a day sitting by the pool and reading, though, so I finished it a lot earlier than she did :)
Anna Snow grew up in an orphanage in Bath knowing nothing of the family she came from. Now she discovers that the late Earl of Riverdale was her father and that she has inherited his fortune. She is also overjoyed to learn she has siblings. However, they want nothing to do with her or her attempts to share her new wealth. But the new earl’s guardian is interested in Anna…
Avery Archer, Duke of Netherby, keeps others at a distance. Yet something prompts him to aid Anna in her transition from orphan to lady. As London society and her newfound relatives threaten to overwhelm Anna, Avery steps in to rescue her and finds himself vulnerable to feelings and desires he has hidden so well and for so long.
The Earl of Riverdale has died. As part of the task of sorting out his affairs (in more than one sense!), his widow discloses to his lawyer and the Duke of Netherby, as executor of the will, that the Earl has been supporting a young woman in an orphanage for the last 20 years or so. The obvious conclusion, to which they all come, is that this is a natural daughter of the Earl's. The widow is a kind soul, and her intention is that a generous sum should be settled on the young woman, rather than having payments stopped.
Straightforward enough, it seems, but things turn out to be much more complicated than that. Because the young woman, Miss Anna Snow, is not illegitimate. The Earl married her mother when he was a thoughtless young man, and although she did die not too long afterwards, this happened after his marriage to the rich young lady his parents insisted he marry under pain of being cut off.
Result? The Earl's other three children, who all had their lives mapped out, need to think again. They are now illegitimate. Their position in society is gone, and they do not inherit anything, not the earldom, which passes onto a cousin, not the Earl's fortune, which goes to Anna Snow.
Anna Snow, whose life is just as uppended by the news. Anna had grown up, like all the other orphans, fantasising that her family would some day be revealed to her. Sometimes she even dreamed she would turn out to be an heiress, and her being sent to the orphanage (a very nice orphanage, where the children are well-treated, but an orphanage all the same) would prove to have been a mistake. When that old dream comes true, it's all much more challenging than she ever thought in her vague fantasies. She's now heiress to a huge fortune and must take her place in society, and her family, many of whom have reasons to resent her, feel they have a stake in making sure she'll "do", and feel entitled to tell her what she needs to do to get there. It's pretty overwhelming.
One of the positive surprises, however, is Avery, the Duke of Netherby. Avery is a family friend, and for reasons he doesn't really understand, he feels compelled to help her.
I liked the setup. The revelations about Anna throw things right up in the air for many, many people, and for once, I am really interested in how things turn out for them (sequel-baiting usually annoys me). One of Anna's sisters gets jilted by the nobleman she was supposed to marry now that she's illegitimate (and the way he gets his comeuppance is extremely satisfying). Her brother, who thought he was the Earl for all of a few days and was enjoying himself as only a young, privileged man with not a care in the world could, ends up joining the army. Both their stories should be interesting. But I'm most interested in two. First, the Earl's supposed widow. We don't get much from her, but I was intrigued by what I saw. Second, the cousin who ends up inheriting the earldom. This is a man who never expected to get it. He worked like crazy to get his own estate in order after he received it in a poor state, and was looking forward to settling down in the country and living a cozy life, as soon as he found a woman to love him. Now he needs to basically start again, since he's received another estate in a bad state, but not the fortune that was supposed to come with it. His story should be interesting.
And I suspect that the fact that I'm going on and on about the family stuff and haven't really said a word about the romance says it all. I'm afraid the romance was very meh. It was fine. There was nothing objectionable about it. In fact, I think Anna and Avery fit quite well. There just was no chemistry whatsoever there. So while I liked reading it well enough, it didn't excite me and I was a lot more interested in the other stuff going on around them.
Before closing this review, I should mention the bit about the mysterious Chinese man who taught Avery martial arts. There's a good explanation here, in the Smart Bitches review about why that element is problematic. I won't repeat it, as it's expressed there both by the reviewer and by commenters such as Courtney Milan much better than I could, but it bothered me. Not enough to overly ruin my enjoyment of the book, but I certainly noticed it. At least Balogh seemed to take the point well, which is refreshing.
MY GRADE: A B-.