I’m a sucker for a marriage of convenience when it comes to historical romance, so Counting On A Countess looked like exactly the sort of thing I would enjoy. However, this one sadly didn’t quite live up to my expectations…
Also, a preliminary note – given that I review anything from middle grade up on this blog, I try to keep my notes on the steamier side of romances to a minimum. But here, I need to talk about a particular plot point, so this review is NOT child-friendly. Or safe from spoilers, for that matter!
Book: Counting On A Countess by Eva Leigh
Read before: No
Ownership: E-ARC provided by publisher for fair review. All opinions my own.
Things started off very well: a deeply roguish rake and a strong-willed young woman agree to marry to gain a large inheritance. Both think they can keep their hearts to themselves, but the chemistry between them predicts otherwise… It’s a reasonably standard set up, and one that I’ve seen play out happily in several books that I’ve enjoyed! Where this one fell down for me was that it just got a little bit far-fetched.
So our heroine is Tamsyn, a Cornish baron’s daughter whose parents died when she was 14. The estate was taken over by her horrible aunt and uncle, who neglected rather than supported the seaside village – so Tamsyn, at 16, set up a village-wide smuggling operation to keep the villagers from starvation. Kit, our hero, is an ex-soldier who has turned to libertinism to try to block out his immediately-apparent-to-a-modern-audience no-please-stop-hitting-me-over-the-head-with-it PTSD. Oh, and he detests crime and criminals.
He wants to use the inheritance money to build a pleasure garden. She wants to use it to buy her estate and save the village by forcing her Dursley-ish family out. (Oh, and for some bizarre reason, the inheritance states that all money is to be controlled by Tamsyn.) Of course, they start to properly fall for each other, and for 60% of the book I was rooting for them. But rather than talk to each other about their dreams and goals (which wouldn’t be a problem since they seem to get on perfectly from the beginning), she decides to start smuggling contraband into his basement, and he decides to seduce her into agreeing to his plan. Of course, they mightily offend each other when this all comes out.
Now, I don’t mind a little bit of crossed wires and miscommunication when it serves the plot – unlike my pal Judith, who utterly abhors it as a trope and should never ever read this book because of that. But this took it to the extreme. When Kit asks for the money to build the garden, Tamsyn says… wait for it… “No.” And leaves for Cornwall. Without explaining. This was so frustrating!! Doubly so because if she had explained, I think Kit would have likely been in full agreement that that was the better use of the money. Anyway, he follows her down to Cornwall, where he sees for himself how dreadful and neglectful her life was, and he’s feeling very sympathetic… and then he catches her smuggling. Of course, this is an utter betrayal of his values, which he’s been nothing but open about, and Tamsyn has completely disregarded his feelings for the sake of the village. He storms off, and immediately has a change of heart where he realises that she was right all along, and crime isn’t really that bad if it’s for a good motive, so of course he’ll help. Basically, his entire characterisation was for nothing – this is the most abrupt change of heart I’ve ever seen.
This transformation takes place with one of the most bizarre scenes I’ve ever seen. It’s like the opposite of the scene at the beginning of Beauty and the Beast – a whole bunch of villagers who only exist to mill about pretending to shop so they can tug their forelocks and shout about how much they love Tamsyn and how she’s the best thing on Earth. Then Kit comes back and lies to the police for Tamsyn, and basically changes everything about himself, while she gets absolutely no comeuppance for the despicable way she’s treated him. I know that romance needs a happy ending, but it just rang very, very false to me.
Okay, so I had some problems with the culmination of the plot. But that’s before we even talk about the scene where Kit takes Tamsyn to a voyeurs’ sex club where everyone wears masks and has orgies! And he does this because just as they’re about to have sex (for Tamsyn’s first time), he notices that she’s a bit nervous and shy. She’s fully consenting, just a little bit weirded out by, you know, it being her first time. So his bright idea is to show her that sex is marvellous, natural, magical, yada yada, by making her get dressed and whisking her off to this Fifty-Shades-esque regency sex parlour to watch a whole bunch of people doing things in various intricately-described combinations! How about, you know, taking it slow, being gentle, and just, you know, showing her how it works yourself? I understand that the steamy scenes are part of the genre, and they often, for obvious reasons in a historical romance, involve the heroine’s first time, but I have never, ever, ever seen someone think “Ooh, what would make this virgin less scared of sex? Oh yes, a public sex dungeon.” It didn’t ruin the book, but it was just weird.
Anyway, on the whole, I enjoyed this. And by on the whole, I mean, the first two thirds or so. But the ending left me reeling and not in a good way. Your mileage may vary, depending on your suspension of disbelief! It’s fun enough, the pacing is good, and the dialogue is very witty. Before Kit’s personality transplant, he was a really good hero! Three cats for this one, I think, as two feels a little harsh…