Title: Never Dare a Wicked Earl
Author: Renee Ann Miller
Genre: Romance, Historical Fiction
Version: ARC – ebook
Page Count: 336
Publisher: Zebra Shout
Notable Notables: The sexual language isn’t cringe-worthy
Recommended Readers: Anyone wanting a basic, predictable romance story
So, look… Have you ever done something because a favorite character (or, y’know, a fictional boyfriend) would do it, and you want to experience what that hilarity would be like? This is what this review is. This is why I went for an ARC of Never Dare a Wicked Earl by Renee Ann Miller. (And thank you, NetGalley, for providing it in exchange for an honest review.)
When the scandalous Earl of Westfield, Hayden Milton, is shot by a vengeful ex-lover, he’s unexpectedly sent an intriguing, female medical attendant rather than a male physician. Sophia Camden is training to be a physician, a role of which is unheard of for women, and won’t let anything derail her from her dream, least of all the Earl of Westfield, no matter how surly or philandering he may be. Stubborn and professional against Hayden’s antics, Sophia offers him a dare: if she can prove her competency in ten days, he owes her a favor to help change the law barring women from the medical field, but if she gives up before the ten days are through, then she will be beholden to him. Thus, a battle of wills and a game of seduction ensues… Kinda…
Fun fact about me: I hate when I’m told that a book is going to be about one thing, but then it’s about something else completely and the thing I wanted to read about is barely covered. Yes, Sophia and Camden do engage in this dare early on, and as it was happening, I was entertained. Sophia was a smart and grounded protagonist, and it was amusing to watch Hayden react to her, even though her “medical experience” was hilariously basic and minuscule.
All too soon, though, the dare falls apart, the characters succumb to lust, and Sophia flees the estate. Only a third of the way through, the novel plummets towards a bunch of contrived tropes and plots to lengthen the text and throw in a bunch of other, unnecessary drama, including miscommunication and/or the characters not talking to each other, the First Time resulting in both heartbreak and an unwanted pregnancy, and Sophia becoming a damsel in distress, being kidnapped and saved not once but twice. I don’t even read many regency romance novels, but so much of this novel was overdone and unoriginal.
And it would’ve been so much better if it had just been written around the dare, focusing instead on these two characters competing, showing off their strengths and weaknesses, and slowly getting to know each other and falling into their feelings naturally. But no.
It’s a shame because, while not gorgeous or stylistic, the writing isn’t terrible. I kept bracing myself for cringe-worthy euphemisms of sexual organs, but I did so mostly in vain. I do wish the author had just used “cock” instead of “manhood” or “rod” and “vagina” instead of “nether lips” and “feminine skin,” but what can you do? (I’m a little concerned because not once was the clit mentioned, and yeah, that’s a problem for me; that’s the magic lady spot, folks, and I don’t think Hayden or Sophia knows that. Maybe the author doesn’t know that???) For the sex that was written, though, it wasn’t very engaging, steamy, or varied enough for me.
I also quickly lost any intrigue towards Hayden because he wasn’t wicked or seductive or witty at all, and I couldn’t take his name seriously most of the time. He tried his best, I’m sure, but the text was limiting. It seemed like the only line he had to fluster Sophia was to tell her she looked “lovely,” and that got old around the second time he did it, which was not the last. He’s also, in case you couldn’t guess, Secretly a Good Man All Along! His bad reputation is all an act and a way for him to repent for his sins concerning his first wife, and now he wishes to do right by his daughter but doesn’t fully conform until Sophia “teaches him to love again.” Bleh! I’m asleep. He’s so boring.
Sophia didn’t hold my attention or my respect for very long, either. She started out as a worthwhile heroine, but her brain went out the window the second she caught feelings for Hayden (which was almost immediate), and for claiming to be a medical professional, she is far too ruffled by a tight ass and sculpted abs. C’mon, girl… The more I read, the more she became a passive victim in her own story.
Moreover, she’s written as being Italian, but there’s very little evidence or background given to her in the novel besides her “exotic” dark skin and her “almond-shaped” eyes. Thankfully, Italians are considered white, so this wasn’t a huge, descriptive blunder aimed at an actual POC character, but Miller does seem to think Sophia is something other than a tanned-skinned white person. Why else would she be described as “exotic” otherwise? You could argue that Italians historically weren’t always treated as white, especially those with darker skin, and Miller is paying homage to that, but that makes these descriptions sound even worse, especially since every character, including Sophia, describes her this way.
It was already a stretch for me, too, to accept that Hayden was already a father but somehow still considered by society to be a horrible person because he “slept around.” Did we really have to make Sophia pregnant and force them to get married on top of it? Did I really need to sit through pages and pages of these two not talking to each other about how they felt and what was really going on with their respective pasts?
And did I really need that ending, where Hayden buys a house in the city so that Sophia can practice as a physician at home so she’ll “no longer feel guilty” about leaving their four children behind to pursue her career? Because a woman can’t do that, right? She can’t go to work without being assailed by guilt because she’s somehow neglecting her kids, even while her husband goes off and does the exact same thing. No, far better for her to always be at home so she can be there for child-rearing even while she’s working. This is what we call fake feminism, folks.
There’s a lot about Hayden that screams “fake feminist” that I won’t get into here, but just know that it’s there, and that was another reason why I couldn’t take him or this novel too seriously.
Honestly, writers, I would rather your hero/villain love interest be a wicked, immoral piece of shit rather than just pretending to be one because you’re always going to try to sell me this narrative of “but he’s actually Good and a Feminist, too,” and it’s always going to be sub-par. It’s always going to be “he’s a feminist because he treats her like a person,” which is the bare minimum requirement and not what actually being a real male feminist means.
So it goes with Never Dare a Wicked Earl. I didn’t hate it, but it definitely disappointed me and didn’t manage to hold my attention, turn me on, or assault me with fluffy scenes of tenderness, and y’all, that’s supposed to be the point of books like this.