I’m a pretty notorious binge reader among my friends, and when I get word of a series that looks promising, I’ll often binge-read it within a matter of a week or two. Eva Leigh’s Regency romance series The Wicked Quills of London was exactly the kind of series I love to sink my teeth into, so the only thing that surprised me about reading all three books in four days was that it took me as long as that (well, work, blogging, and sleep got in the way).
It’s really just so, so rare that I read a trilogy and score all three books with five stars, but this is one of those once-in-a-blue-moon series that I’m going to have to recommend to every single friend of mine who’s into Regency romance (and maybe even a few who aren’t). I just loved the thoughtful intelligence and trope-bending qualities of the characters, the not-so-subtle feminist ideals, and lest you think it’s too cerebral, the romping good times and sizzling passion!
Of course, all three novels are very heavily character-driven, but that was just fine with me. It’s so easy to get used to heroes and heroines who fall into tropes and don’t challenge the boundaries that define them. But this series has got men and women who pretty much tell Society it can go “love” itself, to use a Justin Bieber euphemism. Not only that but you get rakes who are thoughtful and long for love, feisty ladies who aren’t afraid to show they are vulnerable, and stories where love is easy but relationships are hard. And while these ideas are nothing new, they’re delivered with a fresh voice that evidences a scalpel wit and level of insight and is punctuated by humor and scenes so thick with sexual tension you’d need a chainsaw to cut through them.
What really stands out for me, though, is the way these characters fall in love. Their connection is patently obvious in the way they occupy each other’s thoughts, even when they are not together and even when they are seemingly focused on other matters. The idea that love changes you from inside out because suddenly you’re concerned about what the other person would think, how they would react, what they would want—this is what makes these romances really stand out for me.
Keep reading for quick reviews on each book in the trilogy:
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 or 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.
When I first picked this book up, I thought it would be a typical rake-meets-bluestocking story. And if you look at the bare bones of it, maybe it is. But then you take a closer look at Eleanor and Daniel, and they become so much more than your typical Regency romance heroes. For one thing, while Eleanor is passionate about her work, she also doesn’t take herself too seriously and is quick to acknowledge that there’s a practical element to what she does. Daniel, on the other hand, is much more than a rake with a heart of gold; he’s a rake who knows how to listen—really listen—to a person. I loved the way the characters challenged each other to step outside their respective comfort zones, and the way they managed to keep surprising each other and themselves.
As a series intro, Forever Your Earl gives The Wicked Quills of London a running start, with hints of the novels to come (albeit very subtle ones in the case of the third novel and quite overt ones in the case of book 2). It sets a great tone and establishes ideals about love any romantic with a touch of pragmatism would appreciate.
Together they may create a scandal worthy of the stage, but can their love last after the final curtain falls…?
Successful playwright Maggie Delamere has no interest in the flirtations of noblemen like Cameron, Viscount Marwood. She once paid dearly for a moment of weakness…and vows to rebuff the wildly persistent—and irritatingly handsome—scoundrel at every turn. But when pressure to deliver a new play hampers her creativity, an invitation to use his country estate as a writer’s retreat is too tempting to resist….
For years, Cam has admired Maggie’s brilliant work and he can’t pass up the opportunity to discover if the beautiful, mysterious playwright is as passionate and clever as the words that flow from her quill. He’s never offered a lady his bed without being in it, but if it means loosening Maggie’s pen—and her inhibitions—he’ll do exactly that.
But soon Cam’s plans for seduction become a fight for Maggie’s heart. He’s more than the scandalous, carefree rake society believes him to be…and she’s the only woman who has ever noticed.
After thoroughly enjoying the first book in the series, I was eager to start the next one—so I did the very next day! And I hadn’t expected to love it more than the first, but I darned well did! Not only are Cam and Maggie such richly textured characters, but the stakes are even higher for them. While Eleanor in the first book was not a well-known figure publicly, Maggie in this book certainly is, and her association with the theater makes her a scandalous partner for a nobleman indeed. What’s more, a bad experience in her past has soured her against aristocrats, which adds to the tension when she discovers herself in lust and then in love with Viscount Marwood.
Cam is an adorable rake, mostly because he’s quite earnest about his rakishness, and yet he has a healthy respect for women. He plays the part of bored sophisticate so well, but when it comes to the theater and Maggie’s work, he’s as excitable as a puppy dog. He’s remarkably insightful, too, and I loved the way he keeps Maggie unsettled. And that moment of triumph at the end? Let’s just say I would’ve paid good money for a front-row seat to that performance!
In society circles she’s known as the Watching Wallflower—shy, quiet, and certainly never scandalous. Yet beneath Lady Sarah Frampton’s demure façade hides the mind of The Lady of Dubious Quality, author of the most titillating erotic fiction the ton has ever seen. Sarah knows discovery would lead to her ruin, but marriage—to a vicar, no less—could help protect her from slander. An especially tempting option when the clergyman in question is the handsome, intriguing Jeremy Cleland.
Tasked with unmasking London’s most scandalous author by his powerful family, Jeremy has no idea that his beautiful, innocent bride is the very woman he seeks to destroy. His mission must remain a secret, even from the new wife who stirs his deepest longings. Yet when the truth comes to light, Sarah and Jeremy’s newfound love will be tested. Will Sarah’s secret identity tear them apart or will the temptations of his wallflower wife prove too wicked to resist?
It is just ridiculous how much I enjoyed this novel, even despite knowing I wouldn’t have another novel to read right after this one. Honestly, I would’ve given it six stars if I could have.
Whereas books 1 and 2 of the series had us cheering for rakish lords who dared scandal to wed women who were not of the aristocratic class and writers to boot, this one turns that pattern on its ear. Jeremy is a vicar, and he’s the next best thing to a virgin, while Sarah is the daughter of a duke who spends her time penning (or quilling) erotic novels. I hardly expected this to be the sexiest book of the three, but the author probably anticipated that and wrote this novel while mentally rubbing her hands in glee. What I loved was that both characters were highly intelligent, witty, and insightful—which is exactly why they instantly become the biggest threats to the sanctity of each other’s secrets.
As a series-ender, it’s a humdinger, made ever more sweeter because we see a bit of the two other couples at various points in the novel. And it’s in this book that Daniel, Viscount Marwood, utters my favorite line in the whole trilogy: “It’s about more than the lure of sexual satisfaction. You must remember that every woman you encounter is a human being, with thoughts, feelings, and ideas of her own. Treat her with respect, never as an object of for sating your lusts. There is no such thing as a conquest. Conquering is for bullies. A seduction is for both parties, not just the man’s gratification.”
If you’re in the US, Avon is hosting a giveaway for print copies of The Wicked Quills of London books 1 & 2: Forever Your Earl and Scandal Takes the Stage.