The Thirteenth Earl by Evelyn Pryce

The Thirteenth Earl by Evelyn Pryce

published by Montlake Romance, 2016

Pryce’s newest novel is set in 1884 and stars Jonathan Vane, who is the Viscount of Thaxton. His father is still alive, but the man appears to have dementia and is rapidly deteriorating. In order to hide his father’s condition, Thaxton (as he is called) stays away from polite society and earns the name “the Ghost.”

Yet, when Thaxton’s dear friend Percival Spencer, Earl of Spencer, coordinates a two-week long house party with his new bride, Thaxton attends. Granted, he looks sloppy, drinks all the time, and his moody as hell, but friends are friends. On the first two pages, Thaxton and Spencer are fencing in the library so the new wife won’t catch them. On page three, the wife catches them. With her is Cassandra Seton, a pretty daughter of a marquess. By page five, Thaxton thinks Cassandra is hot. So quick!

The problem is Cassandra is engaged to be married to Thaxton’s cousin, Miles Markwick. She was promised to Miles when the two were born, and when she came of age they were officially engaged. However, Miles ran off to Scotland to fix up a run-down estate . . . and was gone for nine years! Certainly, such a man could not be faithful, despite his lady’s reputation slowly diminishing as a result of only time. She’s done nothing wrong — she is, of course, a virgin.

While I dislike covers with real people on them, I found this image appropriate because it reminded me of the clothing of the time and gave a sense of an attractive man, but left his hair and eyes to the imagination.

While I’m no Victorian expert, I did take a class at the University of Notre Dame called “The Victorian Universe” where we learned about the culture, plight of the poor, influence of Darwin, and read three massive door stoppers of the time: Vanity FairBleak House, and Middlemarch. I’ve watched the BBC version of Pride and Prejudice, and I talked with my husband, who loves Victorian lit and studied it as well. Thus, I’m not oblivious to the norms in Vic Lit. What is obviously absent? Sex. Sex of any kind. Except when Lidia Bennett runs off with a solider and must be provided with a dowry to entice the soldier to marry her and thus save her reputation.

The Thirteenth Earl‘s pays no attention to Victorian courting rituals, to the point of distraction. Right away, Thaxton asks why Cassandra doesn’t use her title. She says she prefers not to, and he replies, “Little rebel.” That expression is too bold. Also, these two are constantly alone in public. In Victorian society, women never walked alone; they were escorted by an older, preferably married, man. No contact between unmarried men and women was allowed, even hands. Only after engagement could a couple hold hands in public. Women weren’t allowed to speak to a man of a higher class than she until she was spoken to. A man couldn’t show any special attention to an individual woman unless he intended to marry her (no casual dating!). Early on, a mysterious wailing woman is heard; Cassandra and Thaxton each investigate and bump into one other. Thaxton had felt naked because he wasn’t wearing his jacket and gloves. Cassandra is in her nightgown. Remember, a ruined woman is in danger of death if no one will provide for her. The social behavior was pushed so far that I felt impatient with the novel.

I didn’t get excited about the plot for the first half of the book. The sexual tension came so early that there was no build up. The secret kissing and hand massaging in public under the table, the moaning and “growling,” wore on me. On the same page Cassandra “tried not to be distracted by how handsome he was” and “she had been preoccupied in thinking about Thaxton’s arms around her inside the waltz.” She’s practically unable to think around a handsome (alcoholic) man, a characteristic I found weak and frustrating.

But then Chapter 6 — 95 pages in — the plot starts moving. A seance is held to learn more about the wailing woman voice, but instead Thaxton is told he is cursed to go insane like his father and the 11 earls before him. The characters must find out what’s going on, and why. I plotted through my head: what could be the motive for scaring Thaxton? Was his father really insane, or was someone playing the long game and poisoning him? If he is being poisoned, were the 11 earls before him also poisoned (assuming there is some foul play)? Cassandra’s malicious, jealous fiance isn’t in line to take over Thaxton’s property should Thaxton go insane. I couldn’t figure out the mystery, and that made me really get into the book.

It also helped that I spoke to my husband, who felt that the book is clearly not written in the style of Vic Lit, but simply set during the time period. Surely, people were getting it on at parties. Just because there are norms for polite society doesn’t mean everyone is following them. I used this mid set to stop paying attention to the ways The Thirteenth Earl fails to adhere to history and started enjoying the mystery and sex scenes, which are deliciously well-written. By the time the novel was done, I was having fun and feeling saucy — but it certainly took a lot of time and thinking to get there.

I want to thank Evelyn Pryce for sending me a copy of The Thirteenth Earl in exchange for an honest review. Be sure to check out my review of Pryce’s 2013 romance novel, A Man Above Reproach, a romance set in a brothel during Victorian times!


  1. Romance isn’t usually my genre, but I do know exactly what you mean about historical novels getting the facts right about the era. I don’t like it, either, when they don’t. Still, I’m glad you were able to let go and enjoy the rest of the novel.

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  2. I haven’t read much romance but am always open to trying it. I did read one historical romance by Sarah MacLean this year (Nine Rules to Break When Romancing A Rake) and it was enjoyable. The mystery in The Thirteenth Earl definitely sounds intriguing!

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    • This book we sent to me by the author. Typically, I try to pick books that aren’t my normal selections when I get requests from authors. I did like her first book! I’m not big into historical fiction, but I am going to try the book about Romancing a Rake that another reader mentioned.

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  3. From your description this sounds much more like a Regency romance than Victorian, but even then sex would have been taboo between people of “good” birth. I never really understand why people set books in a time period and then don’t try to make it feel authentic. I’m sure there was plenty of hoohah going on even in Victorian times, but not with young unmarried female aristocrats…

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    • I looked up more about Regency Romance novels to make sure I want mistaken. According to the Internet, that type of romance was set in the early 1800s and included witty banter by no obvious sex scenes. The Thirteenth Earl was set in 1884, had two explicit sex scenes, several almost sex scenes, and lots of making out. The main characters’ friends even help them obtain privacy to engage in such acts because they’re rooting for the man and hate the woman’s fiance.

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      • Yeah, it’s the style of the book I was thinking of, more than the period. Modernly-written Regency romances don’t usually have sex in them (though some recent ones do sadly), but there’s lots of beating hearts and talk of well-turned ankles and pantaloons showing off muscular thighs and so on. Victorian romances, such as they are, usually seem more prudish – the hero and heroine are attracted to each other’s beautiful souls rather than their physical beauty… at least they always are in Dickens! 😉 The idea of the friends helping out just makes it feel even more wrong…

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  4. Historical romances are kind of like a guilty pleasure for me. Maybe it’s the setting or the old fashioned courtship thing, but I just eat it up. That being said, this one sounds like it strays from those rules. And how scandalous: “hand massaging in public under the table.” I glad you found a way to enjoy the novel away. It’s also a good point that just because there were certain rules of etiquette doesn’t mean everyone followed them.

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  5. I often have a hard time with books that are not true to their eras. It is a pet peeve of mine. HOWEVER I try to keep in mind that many of these types of historical romances are meant for entertainment and not for their historical accuracy…

    Great review!

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    • But what’s the difference between 1884 and, say, 1984? I mean, you could avoid the technology and have a house party with a costume event during which people could dress up in the big froofy dresses and actually stay true to the time period! Apparently, there’s something readers find romantic about Victorian times, despite the lack of hygiene (both people and city environments), lack of women’s rights, and lack of diversity.

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