Sex And The Single Earl
by Vanessa Kelly, historical (2010)
Zebra, $6.99, ISBN 978-1-4201-0655-8


In my review of Vanessa Kelly's previous effort, I said that perhaps one day I would appreciate a book by her. Well, that day has yet to come, I'm afraid.

Sex And The Single Earl is the story of Simon St James, the fifth Earl of Trask, and Sophie Stanton, a first degree nitwit at every task. Sophie is in love with Simon ever since she was a zygote pulsing with preciousness in her mother's womb, but because Simon seems to treat her like a bratty sister instead of a woman he'd like to marry and beget sixty six babies on, she is now determined to never marry and instead spend her life pining after Simon. Unknown to her, Simon has his marriage contract to Sophie all sewn up with her grandfather. He'd get all the lands and money he would need to become the Lee Iacocca of the wool industry. You can guess what happens when Sophie discovers the wedding contract, I'm sure. No? Here's a clue: the Avon Romantic Boyfriend Test.

Meanwhile, Sophie is robbed of a precious heirloom at the start of the story by Ms Kelly's own version of Oliver Twist. She is stunned by the sight of the boy who stole her stuff.

He was beautiful, with features so delicate and so perfectly asymmetrical that she imagined she was gazing at the face of an angel.

Uh, that's a rather unfortunate way of putting things in the, er, right perspective.

Sophie spends the rest of the story deciding to champion the rights of Oliver Twist, Timothy Crachit, and all other wee angelic-looking children everywhere. This is an admirable crusade, really, but unfortunately, Sophie's method of making the world a better place for the children is to rush headlong, often alone and always unarmed, into situations where she is hopelessly out of her depths in. Were not for Simon, this story would be 60 pages long at best, ending with a tragic scene where Sophie's violently violated and mercilessly mutilated body floats on the Thames toward the cruel sea while wee crippled downtrodden children stand by the river and wave candles to mourn the passing of Pedo Bear's finest handmaiden.

I don't know. Maybe I'm just too old for this story, but my sole reaction to Sex And The Single Earl is to wonder whether the author is trying to set a new record when it comes to how insipid her characters are being.

Sophie is just annoying as this creature who is devoid of common sense. While posing as a plain and lovelorn lady, she stomps her foot when she isn't allowed to do things her way when she's not chasing after a little boy like a creepy bawd of Drury Lane. And she does things in the worst ways possible - running into danger without a care, never learning much from her mistakes, and generally acting like a spoiled child wanting the cake as well as the whole bakery shop with extra candies on the side. She wants to save the world? Her husband is the Earl of Trask - his position will be useful when it comes to getting people to hear her out. But no, Sophie wants everything. Simon doesn't say he loves her, so no, she will never marry him! Pout, pout, stomp. Let her run nilly-willy into the seediest parts of town to save the kids instead!

As for Simon, it's not like he's a sympathetic character. Don't ask me why he can't tell Sophie about the wedding contract. He believes that he can train her to become his biddable bride and his favorite sex toy in the bedroom, but we all know romance heroines don't work that way. He's a bland character whose presence in this story is defined by his contrived reasons not to tell Sophie that he's marrying her for her hoochie as well as her money, and his ex-mistress who predictably shows up to cause trouble and drive Sophie into hysterical jealousy. As far as I'm concerned, both he and Sophie are irritating stereotypes of the worst kind and they deserve each other.

By the way, Sex And The Single Earl is in a way an accurate title for this book because it is a good indication about the contemporary sentiments peppering this book. Ms Kelly has Simon condemning the hiring of children in his various mills, for example. Simon also insists that it is only common sense and apparently anyone with a brain can see that getting into trade is the only way to go for the people of the Ton. And yet, I have no idea how he came to adopt these views. The characters in this story just happen to adopt "correct" present day sensibilities when it comes to their personal beliefs - they are, in other words, present day characters pretending to be 19th century folks. Therefore, if you don't like your historical romances peppered with contemporary norms and stuff, you should do well to take the title of this book at face value: it's telling you that the story may not be exactly authentic in terms of flavor and more.

At any rate, Sex And The Single Earl has enough to annoy me even if it is written as if Ms Kelly were possessed by the ghost of Jane Austen. The heroine is an irritating wretch who seems to act under the delusion that she is "precious" and the hero is a twit whose obtuse nature drives her to new heights of tomfoolery. The whole story is a vapid "Does he love me? He doesn't say the word so I won't marry him! Ever!" drama interspersed with Sophie doing her best to get killed. Pleasure is the last thing on my mind when it comes to Sex And The Single Earl.

Rating: 49


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