Forever Your Earl, by Eva Leigh

18 Jan
A blonde white woman wearing a royal blue gown, her shoulders and back bare, looks back over her shoulder at the reader, holding a masquerade mask with tall pink plumes. The background and overall color palette indicates the interior of a grand British mansion at night.

I have had a signed copy of this book waiting on the TBR for a long time–I think I may have gotten it at RWA 2017, which was held in Orlando that year, but honestly, my memory can’t be trusted on this, it may have been even longer than that. As it’s the first in a series and the first the author wrote under this name, it feels very appropriate for SuperWendy’s January TBR Challenge theme: starting over. (see footnote 1)

Eva Leigh is one of Zoë Archer‘s pseudonyms; like Amanda Quick before her, this author has reinvented herself as inspiration and the market have intersected, generally with great success with readers.

Reader beware: a secondary character suffers from severe PTSD (no episodes on page), explicit sex on page.

Forever Your Earl, by Eva Leigh

Behold, the back cover blurb:

Eleanor Hawke loves a good scandal. And readers of her successful gossip rag live for the exploits of her favorite subject: Daniel Balfour, the notorious Earl of Ashford. So when the earl himself marches into her office and invites her to experience his illicit pursuits firsthand, Eleanor is stunned. Gambling hells, phaeton races, masquerades . . . What more could a scandal writer want than a secret look into the life of this devilishly handsome rake?

Daniel has secrets, and if The Hawk’s Eye gets wind of them, a man’s life could be at stake. And what better way to distract a gossip than by feeding her the scandal she desperately craves? But Daniel never expected the sharp mind and biting wit of the beautiful writer, and their desire for each other threatens even his best-laid plans.

But when Eleanor learns the truth of his deception, Daniel will do anything to prove a romance between a commoner and an earl could really last forever.

The first in the Wicked Quills trilogy, the beginning of this novel is just a bit crowded with worldbuilding and the backstory of secondary characters who’ll play a part in the other two installments.

Fair warning: I found Daniel’s reasons for approaching Eleanor and start the whole charade contrived as hell; his plan just never made sense to me, and even less after his secret reason is revealed. I had to consciously “let it go” to enjoy the story–which, with a few quibbles, I did.

Set in London in 1816, our heroine is the publisher, editor, and one of the writers, of what is, essentially, a celebrity scandal page. Chapters are introduced by snippets of the same, and I appreciated how the tone changes from pure scandal rag to thoughtful commentary as the book progresses. (see footnote 2)

While the story is set firmly within the genre romance Regency chronotrope, Ms Leigh subverts the usual run of heroines by making Eleanor a commoner. She’s not an impoverished distant relative of coattail aristocracy; she has literally no claim to ‘gentility’. Eleanor has built her own life out, if not quite the literal gutter, out of poverty and neglect, and has a career that does not depend on her perceived respectability or suitability for marriage.

And so, by virtue of not being a ‘gentlewoman’, nor a young fragile little thing, Eleanor has a high degree of agency; yes, even in the early 19th Century, women like her lived, loved, and prospered. (If you can’t tell yet, this aspect of the book worked very well for me.)

Of course, this changes the tenor of a potential romantic relationship with Daniel: she doesn’t care one whit about ‘ruination’, only about the risk to her heart, because he’s an earl who must marry within his class. Mésalliances rarely survive the daily rub with a society that’s determined to maintain a harsh line of demarcation between ‘us’ and ‘them’. (For a contemporary example, see the treatment of Harry Windsor and Meghan Markle by the British royal family, the British aristocracy, and the U.K.’s tabloid press.)

The writing is best when the characters talk to each other; there is some very good, witty banter between them. And of course, Daniel’s plan provides plenty of opportunities for it. More than once, Eleanor ‘owns’ Daniel, who falls prey to preconceived notions of what women are and do. (Minor spoiler: see footnote 3)

So far, so good.


I grew weary of the internal dialogue, which felt repetitive, and at times detracted from the action at hand.

I especially didn’t care for Daniel’s guilt over his friend, and the emphasis placed on his good character/good intentions, contrasted with his ennui and power (both as an aristocrat and as a wealthy man), did not endear him to me. (This is one of those cases where I might have liked the hero better if reality hadn’t showed us, over the past six year and change, and with a vengeance, that white men born to privilege are very, very rarely good people.)

The other two things that didn’t work for me were the last act separation of the protagonists, and the emphasis on love as the essential ingredient for good sex.

On the first point, if we accept that the separation made sense, then the later reunion doesn’t–because nothing has actually changed. On the second point…well, I’m too old to believe that one can only have fantastic sex if one is in the throes of transcendental love, and that sex with someone one loves is automatically a transcendental experience.

So, where does this leave me?

Mostly, wishing I had read this novel when it came out, or at least soon after the full trilogy was released, for I think I would have enjoyed it with fewer reservations.

Forever Your Earl gets an 8.00 out of 10.

* * * *

1 This title was published by Avon, an imprint of Harper Collins. At the time of writing, Harper Collins workers have been on strike for exactly 50 days, during which time management has not even bothered to meet with them. The workers’ demands (a starting salary that barely reaches living wages in NYC, and better staffing on editing, truly diverse hiring) are so modest, that one wonders at the unfettered greed of the Murdoch corporation. If you want your own copy of this book, you can help the striking workers by buying it through their bookstore. To find out how to donate to their strike fund, here’s the union’s linktree.

2 I thoroughly enjoyed the meta commentary sprinkled through the book; one can hear the author’s own experience as a writer, especially a woman writing genre romance in the 21st Century. Some passages flat out poke fun at the genre, such as in chapter 1, when Eleanor says, “Other than the word ‘duke’, nothing intrigues potential readers more than ‘rake’. You do want people to read the columns, don’t you?”, while others highlight one of the saddest realities of publishing (“The life of a writer was never one of ease and accolade–or money”). One that hit close to home to many genre romance writers I know personally appears during a conversation with Daniel, about the midpoint of the novel, that devolves into a fight when he tells her that she ‘could do better’ than ‘scribbling’ about high society’s peccadilloes, that she could write ‘important’ stuff. True to life again, he predictably accuses her of ‘willfully taking offense’ where he ‘intended’ a compliment.

3 One of their escapades involves going to a gaming hell, for which Eleanor dresses as a man. I thought the exploration of what it means to be perceived as a man in the context of a repressive society was well done there.

8 Responses to “Forever Your Earl, by Eva Leigh”

  1. whiskeyinthejar 18/01/2023 at 12:26 PM #

    I kind of had a problem with the contrived aspect of this one, too. I don’t know, it was a bit too clever? I read this in 2016 and said I liked the author’s voice and was going to read the second in the series but, lol, haven’t gotten to it yet. One to add to the TBRChallenge pile!

  2. Holly 18/01/2023 at 9:28 PM #

    I haven’t read this one, but I’ve read some of Leigh’s more recent stuff, and it also emphasized the good man / good intentions thing without much substance behind it (or as I like to call it: Woke Duke), and I found the whole thing a little off-putting. I think if I’m reading a British aristocrat, I’d rather just feed my id and let him be terrible, you know?

    • azteclady 18/01/2023 at 9:37 PM #

      Either that, or put some substance behind it, action over intention.

      • Holly 19/01/2023 at 8:09 PM #

        Yup, exactly!

  3. SuperWendy 28/01/2023 at 10:25 PM #

    I read this back in 2016 and while my memory has become utter trash, what I recalled about it while reading your review was I felt the parts didn’t add up to a whole. I found the pacing a slog but adored that many parts of the book read like a love letter to romance readers and writers.

    I did manage to read this entire trilogy and the final verdicts for me were Book 1 was better than OK, I really didn’t care for Book 2, and Book 3 was a revelation. Take that for what it’s worth 😉

    • azteclady 28/01/2023 at 10:36 PM #

      “the parts didn’t add up to a whole”–YES, this is exactly it. And also yes to “love letter to romance readers and writers”.

      Also, thank you for the overview of the trilogy; as I have the other two books, I’m glad I have the third to look forward to, even if I have to ‘get through’ the second first.


  1. Scoundrel, by Zoë Archer | Her Hands, My Hands - 15/02/2023

    […] upon a time, Zoë Archer (now writing historical romances as Eva Leigh), exploded into the readerly groups around which I circled, with the Blades of the Rose series. […]

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