Title: How the Duke Was Won
Author: Lenora Bell
Series: Disgraceful Dukes #1
Genre: Historical Romance (1830s)
Available: May 26th
James, the scandalously uncivilized Duke of Harland, requires a bride with a spotless reputation for a strictly business arrangement. Lust is prohibited and love is out of the question.
Four ladies. Three days. What could go wrong?
She is not like the others . . .
Charlene Beckett, the unacknowledged daughter of an earl and a courtesan, has just been offered a life-altering fortune to pose as her half-sister, Lady Dorothea, and win the duke’s proposal. All she must do is:
* Be the perfect English rose (Ha!)
* Breathe, smile, and curtsy in impossibly tight gowns (blast Lady Dorothea’s sylph-like figure)
* Charm and seduce a wild duke (without appearing to try)
* Keep said duke far, far from her heart (no matter how tempting)
When secrets are revealed and passion overwhelms, James must decide if the last lady he should want is really everything he needs. And Charlene must decide if the promise of a new life is worth risking everything . . . including her heart.
Source: ARC from Piatkus via NetGalley
I thoroughly enjoyed this tale of deception, hidden identities and a perfect match between imperfect people. It’s fun and romantic with good chemistry between the main characters, both of whom I liked a lot. The duke hunting scenes between the debutantes were good fun and overall I really enjoyed it in a light, not very historical way.
However, there are issues with it. The plot itself is pretty ludicrous, with an illegitimate daughter raised in a bawdy house somehow being beautiful and pure and able to easily pass as an earl’s daughter with only three days of extra training. Yes, it is perfectly possible that Charlene was raised to imitate noblemen’s daughters, it’s slightly less believable that after shelling out all that money for such an education she would have been allowed to spend her life as a washerwoman. Who somehow managed to stay beautiful and perfect, despite the work, the stress, the hot water and chemicals. Also, if she can’t afford money for chocolate, how on earth did she indulge her sweet-eating habits, since her extra weight is made much of at the beginning.
Her name. Charlene… it… just… what?
Everything about her younger sister is a stretch. The idea that she’s completely innocent and unaware of anything that goes on in the house. That she is an amazing painter, despite the fact they don’t have any money. The fact that she got to the age of fifteen before anyone decided to enlighten her. None of it adds up. Especially as they live in Covent Garden. Doesn’t she ever look out the window?
I didn’t have as many issues with James, except that any nobleman who took over his father’s Caribbean estates, freed the slaves and then started working with them (paying them wages too) would have been branded a dangerous radical by the establishment. I highly doubt his tyrannical father would have allowed any of it, and he definitely would have drawn himself all kinds of attention by his fellow plantation owners. Even the fact that he was a duke probably wouldn’t have done him many favours, since he has zero influence after all his time abroad. The need to marry into a more respectable family to gain their support to help James fight in parliament would have been an excellent plan, but no, he wants the new father-in-law to do all the work, because sure, of course he’d agree. (It took the largest bailout in UK history to actually push it through in 1833. The amount of money involved was obscene and it all went to the slave owners. Not that James wants to abolish slavery. Nope, he just wants cheaper import taxes, because chocolate is more important than freedom, dontcha know?)
So it’s not perfect. It really isn’t, and yet, while I was reading it I managed to push all of that to the back of my mind and escape into Regenciana land – which is all wrong for this period, since Chopin is mentioned and it’s pre-Abolition Act, so it’s early 1830s, which is William VI time. But I don’t care. It’s light and fluffy and kind of ridiculous, but I really liked how James and Charlene clicked. They’re both misfits who don’t want to fit in, but are trying anyway, they have (mostly) good intentions for their less than perfect behaviour and I just liked them.
True, the ending is kind of rushed and things are forgiven and forgotten a wee bit quick, but on the whole I just enjoyed the whole thing.
If you’re not bothered by the details – or can forget about them on occasion – and are just looking for a light, enjoyable romance with a historical gloss and a misfit couple, then give this a try. I’m glad I did and will definitely be looking out for the next one.
How the Duke Was Won is out May 26th!
Visit Lenora Bell for more details.