Romancing the Duke by Tessa Dare
Castles Ever After #1
Avon 2014
370 pages
4.5/5 stars

After reading and enjoying Say Yes to the Marquess and When a Scot Ties the Knot, books 2 and 3 in this series (latter to be reviewed next week), I was certain Romancing the Duke could not POSSIBLY equal them. I mean, no. Not possibly.

And yet it was.

Romancing the Duke starts up rather Gothic: Isolde “Izzy” Goodnight, now-orphaned daughter of a gentleman famous for his stories of chivalry and adventure, arrives at a castle she has inherited from her godfather. The descriptions of the murky castle are delightfully reminiscent of Gothic novels, obviously for a reason. And then the whole situation makes a little pivot and turns into Beauty and the Beast. I can’t complain, since the fairytale in question is my favourite, but I’m always wary of adaptations of it because they tend to be too obvious.

I need not have worried, because Dare uses the trope only as the set up for the courtship. Moreover, Izzy is not beautiful – or she doesn’t think she is, and really the reader can’t actually ever form an opinion of her possible physical appeal based on the text, which I find very refreshing and super interesting, in retrospect. I will not say much about the tropes surrounding the hero, because the effect is better if you don’t know anything (even the summary on the back cover leaves any information of the hero out), but you can take a guess from my fairytale comparison. Think Disney’s Beast.

Oh gosh, I love this hero. So, so much. I didn’t think I would, but he won me over completely sometime past halfway. He certainly makes my list of favourite heroes, easily. Possibly top place, unless that be Thorne from A Lady After Midnight. Suffice to say that Dare writes some of the best heroes in the business!

There is also a theme of not being enough, and of depression, and of wearing social masks. Izzy is trapped by her father’s stories and her own name and cannot be who she truly is – a grown woman – in front of, well, anyone. Ransom, the hero, has chosen not to associate with people, full stop. They both have insecurities, which are described convincingly and which resonate at least with this reader, and I’m sure with Dare’s larger readership as well.

What I like best about this novel are the characters, the way in which Dare leaves clues as to whatever secrets they may be harbouring (I wanted to headdesk repeatedly for not paying attention to them and instead being so caught up in how much I like the couple and their progressing relationship), and, on the more technical side, the Points of Ritual Death, which I spotted two of, both not strictly textbook but both clear and poignant and, from my point of view, absolutely delightful for exactly these reasons.

So nearly a five-star book, but I deduct half a star for an ending and another detail that I found implausible. The latter might just be personal, because I don’t know enough to really judge, but the former springs from the somewhat rushed feeling of the surprisingly complicated end. Mind you, it’s in keeping with the Gothic and other early novels!

Well done again, Dare. Well done!



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