Avon, $7.99, ISBN 978-0-06-224019-4
Historical Romance, 2014
Over the last year, something interesting has happened to Tessa Dare. My reception to her first few books were mixed, but as time passes, she has somehow pushed herself to the top of my “authors to recommend to people who love Amanda Quick’s books” list. In fact, she has become more like Amanda Quick than Amanda Quick these days, if you know what I mean: her stories have the humor, the chemistry, and the delicious take on how feisty meets angsty and everything becomes so beautiful – a trend made so big by Amanda Quick back in the 1990’s – while the actual Amanda Quick serves up clumsy historical-paranormal romantic suspense stories that lack the special magic that made her books so much fun in the past.
Romancing the Duke is the start of a series, with the premise being that an Earl with more money than good sense left in his will three castles, one for each of his three goddaughters. After all, wasn’t a castle the dream of every little girl? Isolde Ophelia Goodnight isn’t a little girl any more, though. She’s now 26, unmarried, and clutching desperately to what little money that is left because her father left more debts than nice things for her. When she learns that she has inherited Gostley Castle up in Northumberland, she gratefully rushes over to look at her new home.
Well, it won’t be Izzy’s new home if Ransom, the Duke of Rothbury, has his way. This castle is his, after all. He came here to pout and withdraw from the world – let’s just say that a drama resulting from a botched engagement ended up with him suffering from a physical disability – and then comes Izzy to disturb his emo marathon. He has no idea how the castle was sold without his knowledge – although the pile of unread correspondences may have something to do with it – but he will look into this matter after he’s booted Izzy from his property. She won’t be evicted, however, and in fact, she may just end up taking residence permanently in both his home and his heart.
As I’ve mentioned, this story has a very nice mix of humor and angst. Ransom is not a white knight – he’s a rogue, and he ended up with his current condition not because he served in the war or something. It was due to something far less noble. Initially, he just wants to get into bed with Izzy. But when he falls for her… well, it’s practically a cliché in such stories for the guy to move mountains for the heroine, but here, Ransom does it in such a way that makes me catch my breath. I also adore him for seeing Izzy’s late father as a useless and selfish ass. Unlike many people, he wants to make Izzy happy, and he does it so sweetly that I can’t help but to sigh dreamily.
Izzy is trapped in an unusual circumstance: her father authored a beloved series of children’s books, and the legion of fans always assume that Izzy is the daughter featured in those stories. Izzy, therefore, has to conform to popular expectations to both honor the legacy of those stories and to keep the goodwill of those fans (many of whom are members of the Ton, and a desperate cash-strapped lady could use as many allies as possible). She wishes to have the chance to be just herself, however, and she finds it with Ransom. Also, as a nice change from the typical romance heroine, Izzy has no illusions about her father being what he is.
There is a contemporary feel to the narrative, thanks to Easter egg homages to some pop culture staples out there, but I think the whole thing comes together very nicely. The humor works, the sexual tension sizzles, and the most romantic elements are knocked out of the ballpark. If I do have a complaint, it’s how the middle part of the story sags a little, but the intense last few chapters make up for this.
The greatest triumph in Romancing the Duke is just how much the author succeeds in creating the perfect fairy tale romance. There are many things here that may seem implausible if I think too hard about the story, but I am so swept away by Izzy and Ransom that I can only see the magic.