Sourcebooks Casablanca, $7.99, ISBN 978-1-4926-2156-0
Historical Romance, 2016
Nathaniel Gresham, Viscount Hightower, is getting married to Lady Violet Devere. She seems to be the model of propriety, which makes her a good fit for him as Nathaniel is the only one among his siblings to have a responsible bone in his body. Then again, he should be, as he will be the Duke of Langford one day. As a plus, she’s gorgeous, he likes being in her company, they seem to share a mutual attraction to one another, and they seem to be getting along just well.
Violet, on her part, can’t wait to get married. You see, all her life she has been under the control of a tyrannical grandmother who rules the entire family like a Puritanical despot. As a married woman, she will be able to live her own life, away from her family. Top of her list is to fire her maid, who is her grandmother’s spy, and next, she will go shopping for fashionable dresses. Enjoy the parties! Go dancing! See what wonderful things Brighton has to offer!
As you can probably imagine, Nathaniel is a bit taken aback when the wife starts showing all these unexpected sides of her after the honeymoon. He is a very reasonable husband, however, and he also guesses correctly why his wife is being this way. They both share a mutual dislike of her grandmother, and he has a very good idea of the kind of life Violet led under that hateful bat’s critical eye. However, he sometimes gets uneasy at the lengths his wife goes to in her rebellion against the kind of life she had led prior to marrying him, especially when she attracts the attention of the lecherous Prince Regent. Also, her grandmother is not going to let Violet off the hook that easily.
Heir to a Duke is an interesting read, although it’s not because of the romance. Violet and Nathaniel already have a good thing going when the story opens, and the rest of the book focuses mostly on Violet’s efforts to be her own person, away from her grandmother’s shadow. Nathaniel is almost too good to be true: he is unwavering when it comes to being responsible and sensible, and he is loyal to his wife – almost blindly so – to the point of being an adorable kind of wish fulfillment. Indeed, with an evil tyrannical grandmother and a too-good-to-be-true handsome man that enables the heroine’s efforts to defy the old hag, this book could very well be a spiritual sister to a book by the late VC Andrews. Hmm, this probably explains a lot about my reactions to this book.
Also, the sex scenes are of the closed door variety. If you have read anything by this author before, this shouldn’t be a surprise, but readers new to Jane Ashford may want to take note of this. Her books are not sexy, not that this is a bad thing in this particular context.
What I find really fascinating here is Violet’s coming of age kind of story. Initially, she assumes that marriage would mean an endless dream-like idyll of lovely dresses in bright colors, exciting parties, and great times with the man she adores beside her. It is not long before she realizes that Society imposes separate rules on the behaviors of men and women, and, fairly or unfairly, she attracts unwanted attention if she chooses to do whatever she wants regardless of what is expected of her. She gets a first taste of the bitter realities of a married woman when she discovers that her best friend, who made what seemed like the match of the century a while back, is now very unhappily married, and she also wonders whether her determination to break free from her past may end up driving Nathaniel away from her.
Throughout it all, Violet is never a doormat or a martyr. As she tells her friend Marianne, she may not had been spontaneous or outrageous in the past, but it has always been her ambition to do so. She seems bright and very self-aware, and I also like how, whenever she faces a situation that could lead to prolonged sulking and misunderstanding all over, she always goes straight to Nathaniel for a much-needed talk. This leads to a running joke in which the men around her, including Nathaniel, sometimes wonder just how much she could be like her grandmother at times, but because this is Violet, nice things always happen when she wants a heart-to-heart talk. Her confrontation with her grandmother and her parents in the denouement is something that would do the late VC Andrews – not the ghostwriter writing under her name – proud, because this is classic “I don’t like you, I know now that I will never be like you, because I’m better than you and I HAVE BEATEN YOU!” showdown that Catherine Dollanganger would approve of.
Nathaniel has his share of scenes, but he never develops beyond being this great and supportive husband whom the wife can always be counted on to support her no matter what. Seriously, this is a man who tells the wife, even without knowing the nature of the issue, that he would support her of course. The “of course” is what gets to me – it’s really sweet of him. It probably won’t make him look smart, but he’s just what Violet needs, bless him, and I can’t disagree with his attitude at all. He has always been the responsible one, and he privately wonders sometimes why his younger siblings can take things so easily and even for granted, when he finds it impossible to do the same. In a way, I get this impression that indulging his wife in her rebellion against her grandmother is his own form of rebellion against his lot. He and Violet have this “the two of us against the world, always” vibe that I really like.
There are also some humorous moments here, stemming from Violet’s first time experiences in everything from taking medicinal baths to drinking perhaps more alcohol than wise, but comedy isn’t the author’s strongest point. That’s okay, though, what is left is more than enough to keep me fascinated enough to turn the pages.
So there it is. Heir to the Duke is, I admit, not the most passionate or exciting romance novel ever. But I’m not living for the passion here – I am, instead, turning the pages for the most fascinating story of Violet’s coming to her own lady, and having a very good time in the process. There is something about Violet that I can relate to, and Nathaniel being such a sweetheart to Violet is only icing on the cake. This is not a typical romance novel, and I suspect it would create some polarizing reactions among readers, but me, I’m so glad that I read this book. Prior to this, I would never imagine that I’d be comparing a book by Jane Ashford to the books by the late VC Andrews in a good way, but now that it has happened, I can’t imagine having it any other way.