Thank you very much to Romance Beckons and Netgalley for providing a copy of the novel in exchange for an honest review.
The Return of the Earl was a sweet, easy to read romance that captures the reader’s heart almost immediately.
The novel follows Con who, for the last 13 years, has lived on the Continent after his father exiled him from England. He is known as the Ice Prince, but when he returns home to Harrowcot Hall – a place haunted by the memories of his long-lost love – Con finds himself rethinking everything he once thought he knew about himself and the person he used to be, especially when he comes face to face with Bryn Ellison. Con is convinced Bryn betrayed him all those years ago, but as Con’s icy demeanour begins to melt, Con has to face the past and reawakened passions.
I always adore old lovers stories, where the lovers haven’t seen each other after a period of separation, and have to wrestle with their subsequent hate and attraction to one another. Schwab adapted this trope quite expertly, and then tension between the two lovers – Con and Bryn – was apparent and tender.
Con was a strange choice of protagonist: the reader is reminded every page about his reputation as “Ice Prince”, but he never lived up to it. He didn’t seem like an icy, arrogant character: he was just rude, hysterical and, excuse my phrasing here, but he reminded me a lot of a female heroine in a Gothic romance. Every second sentence was “bloody this”, and “damn that” and him complaining about … well, literally everything. He was an incredibly despondent character who engages in a lot of self-pity. I was also confused by his choices, specifically why he chose to believe his father over Bryn especially considering how much he hated his father.
While I was disillusioned with Con, I did really enjoy Bryn’s character. He was loving and incredibly patient with Con, especially in situations where I would have told Con to go shove something somewhere. My one issue with Bryn is that we didn’t see enough of him! I enjoyed his presence on the page and his interactions with Con, but as soon as he left, the story dwindled. I feel as though this novel could have been far better with two POVs, as opposed to one. If we had gotten Bryn’s thoughts as well as Con’s, then we could have understood the love from Bryn’s side of things, and how he felt with Con leaving him for over a decade. Or maybe even more flashbacks to their childhood, and how that love developed from friendship in the first place. The slow burn was already present in the novel, but by utilising more than one POV, the tension and the romance would have been upped a notch and benefited the story.
Schwab’s writing perfectly complemented the story and I found no issue with her prose. It was highly sophisticated and lovely to read, so much so that I want to read her other m/m novel, even with the few annoyances I found in this story. It was also very obvious that Schwab had done her research on Regency England. Everything felt very authentic and true to the time period. Colour me impressed by Schwab’s research skills and how easy she made it feel to be immersed into a historically accurate story.
If you’re looking for a loving and quick read, then look no further than The Return of the Earl. While the novel suffered a little from the choice of protagonist and the frequent self-deprecating discourse, the romance was wonderful to read as it rekindled.