Friday, May 31, 2024

Sara Ramsey - The Earl Who Played With Fire

No one would suspect prim, proper Prudence Etchingham of lusting after her best friend’s brother. Nor would anyone guess that she’s responsible for dozens of the best forgeries in London’s antiquities markets. But if her love for Alex is doomed to fail, she must raise enough money to escape the marriage mart. She just needs one last, daring forgery to set herself up for life...
Alex Staunton, the rich Earl of Salford, lives a charmed existence. No one knows that he’s dangerously attracted to his sister’s best friend. Nor has he revealed that he suffers from an ancient curse—one that has given him everything, but prevents him from marrying the woman of his dreams. But when an enemy from his past takes an unseemly interest in Prudence’s future, Alex must find a way to break the curse... or risk losing her forever.
Every seductive encounter brings them closer together—but their secret, smoldering desires will inevitably burn them. And when Prudence’s illicit forgery collides with Alex’s desperate search, more than their hearts are at stake. Can they break Alex’s curse and save Prudence from her unwanted suitor? Or will their love become a weapon that will destroy them both?

Comment: This is the fourth and final installment in the Muses of Mayfair series by author Sara Ramsey. Last year I had read the first book and liked it enough to want to carry on with the series but the truth is that the first book ended up being the one I liked the most, and the following three, including this last one, were more average to me.

In this story we finally have the story of the final Muse, Prudence. All female protagonists have a certain hobby which makes them special at a time women weren't encouraged to pursuit other interests than the norms society told them they should, but these three have their own way of thinking. Prudence is as intelligent and capable of debating scientific subjects and she does, in fact, exchange correspondence with many other brilliant minds, although she doesn't tell her she is a woman. One of those men is precisely Alex, the earl of Salford (brother to Amelia, from book #2) with whom she has been in love since they met and started meeting in the same circles. 
While Alex also cares for Prudence, and was devastated when she was supposed to have married another, he believes she is safer without him, for there is something wrong with him. However, another of Alex's acquaintances, the duke of Thorington, shows up now and starts making inquires to marry Prudence, even though she has no money. Alex feels this is a way to get the upper hand on him, but will he finally realize that he can beat overcome any obstacle with Prudence's help?

One of the reasons why the first book was much better to me was the fact Madeleine's desire to be an actress and her relationship with her future husband were subjects that matched quite well. I felt invested in their dilemmas and why she could not be open about her acting. However, the plights of the heroines of the following books didn't seem to be as "organic" to their behavior and personality and, in fact, the general plot of their books seemed less well done. Perhaps there are solid reasons why this is this way, but it feels as if the first book was planned a lot better than the others.

Prudence was supposed to have married the hero from the second book, but he fell in love with her friend Amelia instead. By then of course we knew Prudence loved Alex and their story took longer to happen, so I wished for something special and rewarding, after so long waiting. I was certainly not ready to find that the big reason why they couldn't be together sooner was due to Alex's secret and why he felt he couldn't be distracted by a woman who would demand all his love and attention, such as Prudence.

The reality is that Alex is "cursed" and he believed that years ago when making a wish with a magical dagger, his wish came true and now he can't be distracted from his studies otherwise the obstacle is somehow removed from his path, as it happened to a mistress long ago. If these books had had paranormal content or something, I might have accepted this "excuse" better, but what I thought was, author, come on... I do feel I'm being unfair about how much I disliked this silly plot point, but what could have been a solid romance, came down a lot on my regard, and I feel there could be better ways to develop the story.

This means that Alex hid something from everyone from the start, and even though he likes Prudence, despite he fell in love with her, he also felt he had to protect her by not being with her. Since none of this was shared until a key point in the book, for Prudence it felt he didn't feel the same, and she believed she would need to stop pining for him. What a big case of miscommunication, and I think that or the author could have used a different conflict motif, or their relationship should have been presented differently, because if they were this close and didn't trust one another, the exchange of everlasting love declarations feels rather weak, when it happens.

The story kept revolving about this and some pointless secondary situations (for me) which meant things took some time to finally come to light; I will admit I wasn't always as eager to keep reading, but I also wanted to finish the series and see if these two would finally talk. They do, at last. But does this means they used their brilliance to devise a plan and stick to it? Not really, and it felt as if this would never end... when they finally explain everything and when the story ends, they are a couple and destined for happiness, but I wasn't left with the best impression... some things just didn't seem to make much sense to me.

This said, I feel glad I've finished the series and I did like certain elements in all stories, but I cannot say reading this series made me eager to read more by the author. Perhaps I'll try something else one day, but right now I don't think so.
Grade: 5/10


  1. I have a vague memory that there's at least one of these books in my print TBR, but I confess I'm in no hurry to pull it out. One day...

    1. I really liked the first book more than the following ones. This does make me think perhaps I would also feel other things by the author would feel similar to me. Unless one drops on my lap I might not try them.