An Uncommon Earl

Written by Sian Ann Bessey
Review by Fiona Alison

Alexander Allerton, Lord Bloxley, kneels earnestly over a dying flower-seller his speeding carriage has just hit, as she entreats him to take care of her son. Alexander takes his vows seriously, but his initial inquiries hit dead-ends. Jane Hadford, a genteel girl, disabled in a horse-riding accident, is at peace with never marrying but takes the time to listen and observe. At a social event, Alexander is entranced by her empathy, and, against social protocol spills all, regarding his conundrum, to this quietly astute girl he has not had the good fortune to meet before. Together their search leads first to the Foundling Hospital, and on to a wet-nurse in Berkshire, where all is not as it should be.

Bessey easily endears her readers to her protagonists, and her wry sense of humour is delightful. Well-drawn characters are enhanced by an overbearing, bride-seeking mother and an aunt who is as wonderfully unconventional as this story, and Bessey allows leeway for many characters to emerge from behind corsets and cravats. Her prose is fluid and detailed, historically grounded in the Chimney Sweepers Act of 1788, as we learn of the atrocious conditions of apprenticeship. A very enjoyable read, with enough substance that a sequel would be welcome!