When I was a teenager, my aunt gave us a stack of Barbara Cartland novels. The first… interesting. I think it dealt with a Jacobite and marriage by declaration. Different from anything I’d read before.
I read another. It was okay. Another. Again, just okay. After three or four more, I was bored, and you know, I was that kid who found dictionaries interesting just to read from cover to cover. Milk cartons. Cigarette packages. I just liked to read.
But those Cartlands felt much like “you’ve read one…”
Still, after a week or two of nothing else to read, I went back to the shelf and read the next. And the next. I figured it would be an easy way to figure out this English aristocracy. A viscount… higher or lower than an earl? A baron… the same as a baronet? Maybe the baronet is a son? I wanted to know, and I really thought I’d learn it.
I did, too—some of it.
But honestly, I think the first time I ever used the word “insipid” in a conversation is when I described them to Mom. She laughed. I suspect that she knew exactly what they were before I started reading. She asked why I read them all then, and of course, laughed when she heard my answer. “There’s this thing called an encyclopedia, Chautona.”
Yeah… but we lived in the desert. In a travel trailer without any cooling at ALL. And it was a few miles across “wasteland” to get to the library. In the heat. The scorching heat. That would burn me. Yes, the library had AC. That tempted me. But not enough.
So why am I telling you this? Well, a couple of months ago, I requested a chance to read a Regency novel from Celebrate Lit. I almost didn’t even look at it, but when I did, the premise interested me. You know how Cartland and the like are fond of trying to save the chimney boys? Well, this one went after the abuses of the ton. And I wanted to know more.
Note: this post contains links that may be affiliate links that provide me with a small commission at no extra expense to you. Additionally, I requested a review copy of this book from Celebrate Lit and chose to review it. Opinions are mine, and I thank them for the opportunity.
So, how about a Regency romance from another perspective?
The Duke’s Dilemma follows the story of Cassandra, giving you peeks into a difficult past and her mission to save others from it. She’s a strong character who, for the most part, isn’t too far out of the historical norm (for her situation) to be unbelievable. Too often authors ascribe modern sensibilities and/or actions to their historical characters, but based upon who and what Cassandra is/was, I believe her character to be rather realistic.
And Edward, the duke, is another example of a character who isn’t too far off the mark. There are a few things that feel rather inauthentic but not so much that jar you. And he is a character you love to love. I found him believable, even knowing a few things might be a bit… off. It’s hard for this independent American not to overlook deviations from expectations I can’t and don’t really care to understand, so I won’t pretend I might not be overlooking more than I think.
The minor characters, beloved and villain, all have depth and interest. I love that not everyone is immediately changed into perfect specimens or so completely evil that they’re unrealistic. Elaine Manders did a good job with that.
One of my favorite parts of the book had to do with her use of description.
Manders is a genius with giving you every bit of description you could want (unless you’re one to beg for Dickensesqueness) without overburdening you with unnecessary details that weigh down and slow the plot.
However, the best is that it’s really just a good story.
There was a twist I should have seen a mile away and missed. Whether it’s because she did a fabulous job of disguising it or because she kept me riveted to other elements that I missed it, I can’t say. It was just cool to get to that point. I loved that what should be obvious, was. She didn’t try to turn everything into a twist—just enough to keep you on your toes.
My only complaint on story is one rather implausible scene to tear them apart. There were other, more understandable spots, but the one she chose seemed contrived rather than believable and I don’t think they were “apart” for more than a few hours. I just wished it had been a bit more realistic, but I see what she tried to do, and I give her kudos for attempting it. It was a HARD concept to attempt, and I know I couldn’t have done half so well.
What will bother some readers:
Like most books, this one has aspects that aren’t so great. I mean even the best books have their minor problems. So, because I know historical fiction lovers can be particular about things, I did take note of those things that either bothered me or I thought would bother others.
First, there are a few errors. I received a note saying my cover was slightly off but the interior was fine. I almost wonder if the reverse is true. There isn’t a book published that doesn’t have SOME kind of typo. It’s going to happen. And I prefer to extend grace for those things. But this has a few word choices that are incorrect, and grammar nerds might find them grating. That said, they aren’t even in every chapter. It’s not super prevalent. But, it’s there.
A couple of the things that bothered me most were a few instances of “Convent Gardens” instead of Covent. There were a few lapses into modern vernacular, but I can only recall one specific one, so it isn’t really distracting. I did have to look up one idiom because I was sure it was used way too early. It was. About fifty years. So, for what it’s worth, there are a couple of anachronisms like that, but unlike most I run across, they hardly registered. If I hadn’t been writing a review, I would have been able to ignore easily. And again, these are SO EASY TO DO. So easy.
The writing is rather good, in my opinion.
In the beginning, I was worried about it, because there were a few instances of info-dumping with the old, “Well, as you know Sally…” Well, when Sally knows, you just talk about it. You don’t really tell her what she knows. I understand why Ms. Manders did it, but it’s a pet peeve of mine. I didn’t like it.
A few spots in there were also repetitive—the same word/phrase used in close proximity so it felt kind of like an echo. Again, not too horrible, but it’s there and I’m sharing for what it’s worth.
My final “criticism” has to do with a man of high rank calling a woman of whom he did not have a close relationship with “my dear.” I am pretty sure it wouldn’t be done, even then. That really jarred me.
Do I recommend the book?
If you like Regency romance that is “sweet,” you’ve got a 50/50 shot of liking this. If you don’t usually like Regency for all the balls, dancing, worrying over laces and slippers, and the ever-present “gotta catch a husband” attitude, this might be your answer. It gives you a peek into that era but in a setting and with characters that don’t make you want to yawn. Cassandra is intelligent and resourceful without being too much like an American from the 21st century. Edward is kind, strong, and determined, but still with an eye to his responsibilities. This isn’t an Austenesque “cozy romance” as hers always seem to me. Rather than duelling with wit and humor,this book has real people fighting real problems. There’s a place for both, and I happen to love Austen’s brilliant use of humor and satire, but for those who find her books sedate and/or boring, they won’t find that here.
But I do recommend it with a caveat.
This book deals with the unsavory side of life in London during the Regency period and while it is always… discreet, it is also frank. A few of the details, mentioned in passing rather than shown, are of the sort that conservative readers may not appreciate. Sometimes you need to show the utter sewage of sin to show just how easy it is to be tempted into it, other times it isn’t necessary to go that far.
I think the few things mentioned are so tightly tied to that line that it could swing to just fine or too much, depending on the person’s preferences.
The ending stepped into discomfort for me (not in the unsavory area but intimate ones) but was not obscene. And, unlike most like it, this had a purpose to it. It wasn’t gratuitous, and for that, I thank the author.
Until I wrote this review, I’d decided on a three-star rating. But now that I see what I’ve written, it’s a solid four stars because I DID like it. It’s one of the few Regency stories I’ve enjoyed even apart from the characters. Usually, I only like them because I like the characters.
gency. It seems most people are one extreme or another.