As I’ve mentioned before, I’m currently reading my way through the Outlander saga with True Stories & Make Believe blogger, the awesome Heather DLG. We just finished A Breath of Snow and Ashes, which turned out to be a mega-downer. Obviously, I’ll save our review for another post, but I mention it because it’s been the driving force behind my reading selections for the past week. A girl can only take so much Outlander turmoil before she starts to crave a good ol’ fashioned angst-free happy ending. This girl, in particular was in serious need of a feel-good romance.
I’ve been devouring one after another, reading my way through some old favorites and some wonderful new books, the latest being Elizabeth Boyle’s Mad About the Duke. Thanks to a spot-on recommendation by fellow Avon Addict, Lisa Lin, I snagged this fantastic read a few days ago and haven’t looked up from my Kindle since then. Yes, it is the 7th book in a series of 8, but despite a first chapter that calls back to events in book 6, Mad About the Duke is a completely worthy standalone read. Don’t let it’s place in the series deter you from starting it.
Lady Elinor Standon is one of the three widows brought together to live in a house and find husbands. Lest this sound a little too MTV Real World (am I dating myself with that reference?), don’t worry; it’s a minor background detail. With one widow down (aka married) and two more to go, the pressure is on Elinor, who is determined to snag a duke in hopes that a marriage to a man of power will free her young sister Tia from the guardianship of her despicable stepfather Lord Lewis. In a desperate attempt to further her marriage plot, Elinor hires James St. Maur, whom she believes to be a man of business, to help her scope out a few eligible dukes. But guess what, ladies…HE’S A DUKE!…James Tremont, 9th Duke of Parkerton to be exact. Unwittingly pulled into this odd charade, James can’t seem to find his way out from this lie that brings him a new degree of freedom, and ever closer to the stunning Elinor.
The attraction between Elinor and James starts on the first page of chapter 1 and just keeps getting stronger as the pages keep turning. Yes, there is this odd contrived setup based on a lie–James is playing a solicitor–but there’s no angst, no sturm und drang about his mistaken identity as there would be in other darker romance novels. James rather likes playing the man of business, and despite the false title, he is most himself when he’s with Elinor. Add to that the fact that virtually EVERYONE ELSE IN THE ENTIRE NOVEL KNOWS HE’S A DUKE, and his deception really becomes more like a little white lie, the equivalent of telling the girl you’re dating that you wash your sheets every week when really it’s more like once every two months. A little troubling, but nothing a good partner can’t fix. It doesn’t stand in the way of Elinor and James getting to know, love, and lust after one another, which is all that really happens in this book.
Boyle keeps the tone of the novel light and comical, with just the right touch of conflict to keep the narrative moving along toward its inevitable happily ever after. Even Elinor’s seemingly dire situation–Lord Lewis really is one hell of an ass–doesn’t feel desperate to the reader, because we know a duke is right under her nose (or under her, depending on the love scene). Despite the potentially disastrous explosion that could happen when Elinor inevitably discovers James’ social standing, you somehow know it just won’t happen. The romance between the two feels too genuine and somehow strong enough to withstand a few minor details like ducal estates and signet rings. It’s the affective bonus in all its shining glory (thank you English lit degree): Elinor needs a duke, but follows her heart instead and gets–surprise!–the richest duke ever! Sounds a little Lizzie-Darcy doesn’t it? And just when I thought the Pride and Prejudice allusions couldn’t get any stronger–BAM!–Boyle throws in a little Lizzie Bennet seeing Pemberley for the first time home-for-owner metonymy in the form of Elinor seeing Colston, one of James’ lovely ducal estates, and immediately falling deeper in love with the man. It’s just fantastic and warms my little English major heart.
As always, Boyle is a master of secondary characters. There’s a whole Peanuts gallery worth of awesome in the people who populate James and Elinor’s social spheres, but my special favorites are James servants. They are a fantastic reminder that in regency England, an aristocrat often lives at the mercy of his or her house staff.
Mad About the Duke is a wonderfully uncomplicated romance. Two people meet, two people lust, and two people fall in love without tumult. If you need a feel-good romance to get you out of a funk, pick up a copy of this shiny, happy book.
Rating: A ( I would have given it an A+, but there was no epilogue! I’m a sucker for those little glimpses into a couple’s future and am always disappointed when I don’t find one at the end of my favorite romance novels. Side note: I am also the kind of concert-goer who will cheer and yell and clap until the band comes back on stage. Coincidence? Probably not.)