Avon, $7.99, ISBN 978-0-06-246985-4
Historical Romance, 2017
Very few authors can write romance featuring frenemies like her, and this one capitalizes on the author’s strength. Unlike her last few efforts, The Truth about Love and Dukes also showcases plenty of successful efforts to portray more complicated characters rather than stereotypes in action, and oh yes, it also features a feminist heroine done absolutely right.
Irene Deverill took over her family newspaper business a while back and finally made it profitable by transforming their rag, Society Snippets, into a more accessible, trendy tabloid that captures the attention of the population, including the Ton. Her father is always too in love with the bottle to do anything right, and yet, he naturally disapproves of the heroine’s efforts even as he has no qualms enjoying the rewards that come with a successful business that he has not laid a finger on in any way. Henry Cavanaugh, the Duke of Torquil, takes advantage of the man’s emotions to purchase the business – which is still under the name of Irene’s father – and use that business as leverage. If she won’t help him, he’d shut the business she has worked so hard in building without any hesitation.
You see, a popular feature of Society Snippets is an agony aunt column featuring Lady Truelove. Trouble begins when Henry’s mother, who is embroiled in an affair with an artist (something everyone tries to pretend not to be aware of, wrote to Lady Truelove. Her lover proposed, and she was torn between following her heart for the first time in her love or continue living a respectable, if passionless, existence. Lady Truelove told her to follow her heart, et cetera, so now Henry’s mother has vanished, apparently having eloped with her lover, and he is not happy at all.
Eventually he tracks down his mother. On the bright side, she has yet to marry her lover. Still, she refuses to budge from her decision. As someone who had been respectable and proper all her life, including marrying a cold control freak out of duty, Henry’s mother has had enough and, now that she is in her early fifties, she wants to finally let her hair down and be with someone she loves. Realizing that she will never listen to him, Henry decides to force Lady Truelove to come help him make her mother come to her senses. Despite Irene’s protests, he easily and correctly deduces that she’s Lady Truegood, so now she’s going to come be part of his circle and, in two weeks, get her mother to cry off her upcoming marriage or else.
The author has always been a solid storyteller, and once she gets going on a good day, her story can be very hard to put down. This one, however, is impossible to put down because, my goodness, it just knees me in the gut from the start – in a good way, of course – and keeps me reading no matter what. Henry and Irene start out like two rhinoceroses that keep charging at one another. No one wants to budge from first impressions – she’s an insufferable and impertinent suffragist who thinks she knows everything, and he’s a pampered, privileged brat who thinks the world should obey him when he snaps his fingers just because he thinks he’s entitled to such things. Even as these two hiss and snarl at one another, I never get the feeling that they detest one another. Quite the contrary, in fact, as there is enough chemistry that their transition from hissy to kissy feels seamless and natural.
Throughout it all, the main characters are strongly defined, well-developed types. Okay, Henry is a bit more simple, as he’s a standard “I screwed up once, so I will now refuse to love ever again!” type. but I feel that the author gets him done absolutely right. The man doesn’t change just because he’s finally getting laid – he is such a rigid and immobile person that he has to take a really savage dressing down by Irene to even begin to thaw. I find this more realistic than some “I’m in love so I magically change!” character development, so I really like what the author has done here.
As for Irene, she’s a solid example of a suffragist heroine done right. Although this could be a double-edged sword, as there will no doubt be readers out there who will find her hard to like as a result. Still, I love how the author allows the heroine to hold on to her principles and stick by her guns, even after Irene has decided that she’s in love with Henry. No, this is not a heroine who magically forgets her cause or ambitions after getting a taste of the amour – she makes it very clear that, if she chooses to give up her magazine, it’s because she feels that love is worth letting go of it. In other words, it’s on her own terms. And bless the author, she doesn’t try to force Irene into becoming a traditional mom-and-wife type by the epilogue. Very nice.
More importantly, the author addresses one issue that always perplex me when it comes to many romances with suffragist or independent women of means: why Irene needs to marry Henry if she’s not keen on conforming to Society’s rules. No, she’s not forced into marriage. What is truly awesome here is that she has no qualms embarking on an affair with Henry, even practicing birth control in the process, and why not? It’s entirely in her character to do this; it’d make no sense if someone like her, a lady of the working class despite some loose ties on her father’s side to the aristocracy, to want to or expect to marry a duke. She only marries Henry when she’s absolutely confident that he would respect her enough to value her opinion and position, so when she finally says yes, it’s because she’s seen both the best and worst aspects of him, and she feels that he’s worth it to make the sacrifices needed to make the marriage work. I really, really like this, and I confess that this is what tips this book from four oogie read to Hall of Fame territory.
There are liberal amounts of passionate frenemy moments here, with two strongly drawn characters whose romance make all the perfect sense in the world. I believe in the romance, and I adore how everything plays out here. There is so much about The Truth about Love and Dukes to adore, and that’s the absolute truth, right there.