*Since we're diving deeper into the book I thought the step back would be a more fitting graphic than the cover.
A few days ago I suggested you preorder Once Good Earl Deserves A Lover, read it at midnight and meet me back here to discuss where I thought it fell apart. I can only show you the path, I can't make you walk it. If you're reading this without having finished One Good Earl that's on you, kitten.
With everything I loved about OGEDaL this is not a cliche free book. MacLean deals with the logistics of a girl who wears glasses so well that I forgave that girl being an intellectual. (The details of Pippa trying to tie a mask to her face won me over.) While I'd love to read about vision impaired heroines without their defective eyes conferring intellectual power, I get that this stereotype is hardly negative. But still. Smartacles. The magic of myopia.
With all the Pippa Middleton / Prince Harry shipping in the zeitgeist it took me a moment to get past our leads being Pippa and a tall charming redhead. It certainly didn't hurt that Cross was also an intellectual. (Say what you will about Harry but he's never been known for scholarly prowess.) I appreciated how Pippa dominated the book. Cross was well represented but it's Pippa that drives the story and dictates the action. She never becomes a passive passenger in her own story. The human relationships were (with some exceptions) well defined and realistic. I believed the divide between Cross and his family, as well as the interactions between Cross and his partners. I appreciated MacLean leaving Cross and his sister estranged. It was truthful and appropriate. What was neither was the distance of Bourne. I found his exclusion completely implausible. It's one thing for Cross to conspire with Pippa, it is another thing for his partners to do so. Events escalate to the point that the partners spend 19 million in company funds (300,000 plus pounds converted to modern pounds) without consulting or informing him. (The 19 million spent made little sense. This was a feel good resolution that didn't hold logically. It also put the owners - and thus Bourne - into business with men they didn't wish to entertain.) Aside from the financial aspect, Bourne is invisible in his own family life. He is a prop used to support the HEA from a prior book instead of a realistic character. This is Bourne, he likes to bang Penny now - as though there is no other purpose to his existence. Send your prior characters on a tour of Europe if you're going to write them out of their own lives.
Cross and Pippa have a nemesis in rival club owner Knight. Of course Knight has a daughter. Since Pippa has two men on her string you know we're going to end with one of them marrying the girl. It's unlikely, unrealistic and unbelievable. It weakens the overall story when characters not destined to be sequel bait pair off like animals on an ark. There is no need for Knight (or his daughter) to bag an aristocrat. Late in the book events also weaken the portrayal of our extra earl. It's understandable that Pippa would build a plan requiring the full cooperation of a recently rejected lover. It's less understandable that he would comply. Marrying him off to Knight's daughter undermines the only simple explanation for his eager compliance. We needed more characterization of his friendship with Pippa to understand what appears to be an inexplicable willingness to comply with her desires. "Hi, I'm not going to marry you. It's really sweet of you to offer to marry me even if I'm pregnant or just desperate, and I totally adore how you're keeping the offer on the table, but would you come help me win the man I want instead?" What makes him agree? Nothing but the needs of the plot.
One aspect of the book I I really enjoyed was Pippa's frank acceptance of human sexuality and lack of disdain for sex workers. Pippa struggles to understand who would choose such a life (and if they would). I felt MacLean was having it both ways when Pippa tells a prostitute that there is no shame in the word, then tells the hero she cannot condone the life. On the one hand, a heroine refreshingly free of slut shaming. On the other, nod to conservative reader expectation. When the prostitute flips on Pippa she has a wonderful defense of her actions that again, is adjusted to reader expectation by her regret at having wronged our Pipster. I'm conflicted in my feelings about this aspect of the book.
I'm not at all conflicted about the final pages. Cross has his last minute revelation. He runs down the street to make the church on time where he finds Pippa in the foyer instead of walking down the aisle. A public proposal follows, and a babylouge ties it off in a bow. This part of the story couldn't be more cliched if it starred Hugh Grant. Pippa has called off her wedding. Why is she at the church? If not Pippa then at least her family is aware she has jilted an earl and will be subject to extreme public scrutiny. Pippa is sporting a bruised face and a blackened eye. Someone around her (oh, I don't know, Bourne?) might have feelings about her appearance. Someone might suggest (her mother?) that society is going to assume the earl beat her and thus she canceled the wedding or that her father beat her for canceling the wedding. Either way, bare faced Pippa hanging out at the church is going to create unwarranted and unsavory rumors for someone. I didn't believe that she'd appear or that she'd hang out in the lobby. Far more likely that Pippa would be at home or at the wedding breakfast (where her appearance could possibly be explained). Pippa is in the church only to facilitate the cinematic staging of her proposal. In a book so deeply concerned with logic and intellect it doesn't hold together. Plus, babylouge. So, so sick of babylouges.
I still loved One Good Earl Deserves A Lover. Books, like people, don't need perfection to be worthy of affection. We can embrace them and see their flaws simultaneously. MacLean owns me for her next release and probably two or three after that. If there's an author / reader version of reality show immunity, she's got it.