Julia London’s THE REVENGE OF COUNT EBERLIN is an English historical romance set in 1808, and is the second novel set in the “Secrets of Hadley Green” series. The protagonists are the Danish Count Eberlin, born Tobin Scott of Hadley Green (his title was purchased), and Lily Beaudine of Hadley Green, now the Countess of Ashwood in her own right. Years ago, Lily saw Tobin’s father leaving Ashwood Manor at a very late hour and didn’t understand the context; unfortunately for Tobin (and his father, Joseph Scott), that was the night the Ashwood jewelry went missing. The elder Scott was quickly accused of theft and hanged even though he was innocent of that crime. Even though Lily was only eight and Tobin thirteen when this happened, Tobin blames Lily for his father’s untimely death and is bent on revenge.
Lily’s feelings for Tobin are more complicated. She remembers him as a childhood friend and companion, as Lily’s beloved Aunt Althea used to ask Tobin to watch over Lily due to her close companionship with Tobin’s father. But since Tobin’s now bent on the complete ruination of the Ashwood estate — and because Tobin has a great deal of money due to being a self-made man (he made his money the old-fashioned way, as a privateer and gun-runner) — Lily feels she has no choice but to make some sort of deal with Tobin.
Of course, Tobin doesn’t want anything from Lily but her body (isn’t this always the way of things?), partly because Lily moves him but mostly because he wants to ruin her for a decent marriage to one of the Ton. This is why Lily decides on a dangerous course; she will attempt to seduce Tobin (without giving up her virtue, or at least without giving it up too easily and to no purpose) while attempting to clear Joseph Scott’s name, as she figures one or the other things should lower Tobin’s defenses.
There’s a great deal of passion here between Tobin and Lily, so Lily’s stratagem quickly falls apart. Yet the regret and guilt Lily feels about Tobin’s father (as now that she’s fully adult, she has a much better idea of what was probably going on between Aunt Althea and Joseph Scott that had nothing to do with the Ashwood jewels), much less the guilt Tobin feels later on (as he realizes Lily was only eight; why should he blame her for reporting what she saw under the circumstances?), can’t help but complicate this romance further.
So, do Lily and Tobin find out who carried off the Ashwood jewelry? Will Tobin succeed in ruining Lily in every possible way? And what will happen to this pair long-term? All of these questions, and more, are answered in a thoroughly satisfying way.
As this is a romance, you can expect sparks to fly and the dialogue to sizzle, as it’s part of the genre. But what’s particularly good about THE REVENGE OF LORD EBERLIN is the strength of the characterization, as both Tobin and Lily could’ve easily become caricatures with less skillful treatment, yet are winningly brought to life by Ms. London.
The only minus here is the fact that Joseph Scott’s fate wasn’t ever in doubt. From the beginning, I knew he was innocent and that Tobin’s anger over his father’s death was real. The only real mystery about that is why Aunt Althea didn’t speak up to save Joseph from the gallows, but even there, Althea was married, albeit to a man who had many mistresses during the course of her marriage. In that day and time, women didn’t admit to taking lovers unless they were independently wealthy widows, so it wasn’t at all surprising why Althea said nothing — and why Joseph, loving Althea, said nothing even though it meant his death.
This one weakness is enough to keep this novel from getting the grade I’d wished to give, a solid A. Still, THE REVENGE OF LORD EBERLIN is a fine way to spend a few hours, and I enjoyed it very much indeed.
–reviewed by Barb