Sourcebooks Casablanca, $7.99, ISBN 978-1-4926-2168-3
Historical Romance, 2017
No, there is no duke hero in The Duke Knows Best – the duke here is the hero Randolph Gresham’s father, and no, the duke is not a matchmaker like the title may lead you to think. Randolph and Verity Sinclair fall in love all on their own, and if there is any that is closest to a matchmaking plot device here, it’s actually an incident befalling his mother that forces them to be closer together when they seem to be drifting apart. But not much of this story feels contrived in a forced-by-matchmakers way. Not only that, this story has a lot of interesting, different things to offer without breaking the formula too much – a testament that authors can still be interesting without coming off as rote or predictable.
Randolph is a vicar, although he never comes off as particularly religious or even virginal here. It’s most likely because he’s not the eldest son and hence he has to do something. Going to war, becoming a spy – we all know only heirs and actual duke are allowed to do these things. At any rate, he is currently having some downtime before he is transferred to a new parish, and it coincides with the start of the Season. This is a great time for him to seek a wife, so that he can be dutifully and pleasantly married by the time he takes up his post in Derbyshire.
Meanwhile, Verity comes from a family of clergies and other religious sort. It’s like being in a noble family, only that in her world, people are climbing up the career and power rungs of the church and what not, instead of Parliament, and she’s personally tired of living a life constrained by so many rules. Now that she’s finally convinced her parents to let her enjoy a Season in London, she’s determined to find a hubby that will get her out of her country parish. She wants a worldly man who can show her a world of adventures, travel, and other fun things. No clergymen, no, no, no.
Paul and Verity do not click when they first meet. She thinks he is cute… until she learns that he’s the kind of man she’s hoping to avoid getting too close with during her time in London. He thinks she is cute… until he learns that she has no intentions of settling down into domesticity in some country parish for the rest of her life. But when they are forced to duet together during a ball, and they do it so well that the Prince Regent wants to throw a party and be entertained by these two, Verity and Paul have to spend quite some time together, and we all know what happens after that, I’m sure.
Verity is a wonderfully sane and likable heroine. Her reasons for wanting a life different from her current one feel relatable to me, and she goes about finding adventures in a sensible way. She plans well, she weighs the risks and repercussions, and she doesn’t do that running wild alone into the streets at night without any thought other than “I want fun!” thing. She is also the kind to cut straight to the chase, and whenever she could have harbored weird assumptions about the hero, she instead seeks to find out the facts before deciding her next move. This is, all in all, an adorable heroine.
On the other hand, Paul is a bit bland. He is more of a reactive hero – many of his actions here are the result of the actions of the people around him or the circumstances he stumbles upon. Folks wishing for a shy or obviously inexperienced hero may be disappointed that our hero doesn’t seem any more or less experienced than a typical hero in a traditional regency romance, but I think he’s alright. Besides, he’s the son of a wealthy and powerful duke, and hence he has no worries about money or anything. It is not surprising, therefore, for me to learn that a longstanding drama between him and the Archbishop of Canterbury goes on for as long as it does because he is content to remain passive and let things be. Paul is the kind of the guy who is all que sera sera, and he’s not even that proactive when it comes to his romance with Verity. His father has to step in in the end to clean up that drama, so the title of this book, therefore, is not a lie.
Sure, he moves in for a kiss or gropes her here and there when the opportunity arises, but he doesn’t do much heavy lifting where the romance is concerned. But that’s okay to me, because Verity is boss enough to make things happen for the two of them.
Perhaps because of Paul’s personality, the romance doesn’t reach boiling point to me, and I’m not just saying this because the heat factor here is just slightly higher than a traditional regency novel – anyone who reads this author’s books will know that Jane Ashford doesn’t do sexy. The romance never particularly feels intense or passionate. I believe these two are good together, but still… maybe it’s just me who likes my romance novels to be higher on the heat scale, but I’d prefer to see something more intense than some brief, mechanical making out here and there to remind me that these two are going to get married by the end of the story.
Still, The Duke Knows Best has many other good things going for it, and the cause of the drama between Paul and the Archbishop is hilarious. I’m fine with it, although a part of me will always wish that there is a bit more sexy here, and it’s a solid story to close a family saga that has its share of ups and downs.