[Book Review] Romancing the Duke: Castles Ever After by Tessa Dare

romancing the dukeBook Rating: (Highly) Recommended

Despite following Tessa Dare on twitter for weeks now, Romancing the Duke is the first one of her books that I’ve ever read. Don’t worry, I’m thoroughly kicking myself for waiting so long to read her work.

In some ways, Romancing the Duke is a standard Regency romance because it has the scenery and politics common to the genre.

I do think that the book veers away from the Regency standard because of the characters that Dare has created and how they interact with their world. Even though I’m not always the biggest fan of historical fiction set in Europe (because they tend to lack non-servile characters of color), I was charmed to pieces by this book because of how the characters interacted and how weirdly relatable the heroine’s thought process was.

The heroine in Romancing the Duke is Isolde “Izzy” Goodnight, the grown-up daughter of a famous writer known across the country for a series of stories written as if he was telling them to her. After the sudden death of her father, Izzy finds herself desperate and on her own thanks to a selfish and possibly sadistic cousin who gleefully runs with the fact that Izzy’s father never made any changes to his will before his death. With no funds to her name and unsure of how to manage in the world, Izzy finds herself shocked when a letter comes to her, telling her of a bequest from one of her father’s many patrons.

Of course, this is a romance novel so it’s not as plain and simple as it seems. The castle is run-down, full of bats, and half-empty of furnishings, but it isn’t empty. That’s where our hero comes in.

Ransom is a duke unlike any I’ve ever read before. The intense, broody mood that he’s in for much of the book? Yeah, it’s not an act. Ransom is a man unused to gentle things. Not because he’s a manly man and they don’t want love, but because he’s straight up been removed from the opportunity to have love given to him. Seriously, he’s got one hell of a tragic backstory that gets fleshed out throughout the book. By the end of it, you both want to hug him and smacking and it’s hard to figure out which desire is more intense.

Partially blinded by an injury, Ransom has locked himself up in the remains of the castle with only his valet Duncan, his dog Magnus, and the vicar’s daughter Abigail as relatively regular companions. He’s surly and kind of a jerk, but at least some of his anger can be explained by what has happened to him.

Basically, Romancing the Duke is the story of what happens when an immovable object (Ransom) meets an unstoppable force (Izzy). But you know, with lots of sexual tension that certainly doesn’t stay unresolved for very long. I love this book because at the heart of it, it’s about two people getting to understand that they deserve more and that they deserve better, even from the people that love and care about them. Both Izzy and Ransom have moments where it hits them that they can have what they deserve (and that they can have one another) and it’s all so very intense.

I felt a little bit like swooning while reading and that’s not something that usually happens to me. I’m the anti-swooner.

Speaking of swooning, I love that there’s a moment where Izzy faints at the start of the book right when she meets Ransom. He of course assumes it’s because of his scar or because she’s this super innocent lady but nope. Izzy is quick to assure him that it’s because she hadn’t eaten in ages. There’s nothing wrong with swooning but in a genre where it is pretty common for our heroines to see a dashing duke and then fall to the ground in a tangle of skirts, this was a pretty funny change.

One of the actual best parts of the book (as well as the background for a couple of significant plot points that I refuse to give away even though the book has been for over a year and a half by now) revolves around the stories that Izzy Goodnight’s father became famous for.

The Goodnight Stories have an in-world fandom. They do all the things that modern fans do (from cosplaying as their favorite characters to throwing wild speculation at people connected with their favorite media — in this, Izzy). Of course, I know that fans and therefore fandom have existed since the very first stories were told to a crowd, but even in books about authors, you don’t see this side of it. It’s not quite as bad as what Sir Arthur Conan Doyle had to deal with when it came to Sherlock Holmes fans but I thoroughly enjoyed the fact that we got to see both the good and bad parts about fandom during the Regency era.

Now there’s a lot to like about this book (and I’m considering getting the next book as I type), but I do have a few quibbles to bring up.

First – I’m pretty sure that Ransom’s dog Magnus just up vanishes. Where does he go? Why isn’t he mentioned more? I felt as if he was a seeing eye dog of a fashion but did Izzy’s increasing presence in Ransom’s life mean that he’s not needed?

Weirdly, this was something that I kept thinking about…

Second – There’s a sex scene after the dinner party scene that was actually very uncomfortable for me to read because Ransom’s dialogue slipped firmly into the creepy coercion no-zone for me. Sure, Izzy is happily consenting, but her consent didn’t really make up for the fact that in that scene I came close to being triggered. All of the other sex scenes in the book are great, super sexy and even cute in someways, but that one rubbed me the wrong way.

Aside from that and a few other tiny things, I really do recommend this book! If you like Regency romance and witty, sweet heroines that run circles around the main man in their lives, Romancing The Duke might be right for you.