Friday, August 30, 2019

BOOK REVIEW: Bringing Down the Duke by Evie Dunmore

I received this book for free from Netgalley. This did not influence my review.


Bringing Down the Duke by Evie Dunmore is a delightful historical Romance that manages to spotlight the “historical” as well as the “romance.” It is set in 1879, during Queen Victoria’s reign, rather than the typical Regency period, but many of the same society customs and restrictions apply.

Annabelle Archer is the twenty-five-year old, impoverished daughter of a deceased vicar, forced to live with a cousin as a drudge because she has no other options. She is a commoner. She is too beautiful for her own safety/reputation. And she is extremely intelligent, not just intelligent in a witty, able-to-fend-for-herself way, but academically intelligent, intelligent enough to be frustrated by the lack of opportunity available to studious women and the inevitable “blue-stocking” label. If all this isn’t bad enough, she has a scandalous past.

When an opportunity arises for her to leave her cousin’s household to attend Oxford College with a stipend, she finds a way to do it. There is a condition on the stipend, however. It is provided by an organization of suffragists, and she is expected to take part in the women’s lobbying efforts. She immediately inadvertently lobbies the wrong man: the duke of Montgomery.

Sebastian, the duke of Montgomery, is known to be a cold-hearted efficient Tory who gets things done. A favorite of the queen, he has been tasked with ensuring the election of Prime Minister Disraeli in the next election. In truth, Sebastian has Liberal leanings, but he serves the queen with unquestioning determination because she is the only person with the authority to grant what he wants most: the return of his ancestral seat. The previous duke, Sebastian’s father, lost it in a card game. An ineffective duke, he frittered away much of the Montgomery holdings by neglect, drink, and gambling. Sebastian has spent his life trying to rebuild the legacy his father lost.

Annabelle’s assignment from the suffragist leader is to follow up on the initial encounter with the duke. Annabelle, desperate to avoid further scandal, is reluctant but complies. Typical developments for the genre--mistaken identity/motivations, miscommunication, prideful rebellion, and simmering passion--propel the story along as the two learn to understand one another and then fall in love.

Annabelle’s strength as a heroine is not simply her striking beauty and strong personality. Annabelle is a fascinating character because of her intelligence. She challenges the men around her with a brain and an education that more than equals theirs, despite all the advantages of their situations. Sebastian’s character impresses because even though he is a snob, his privilege has not blinded him to the plight of those lower in the pecking order. Even more importantly, he is not threatened by or made uncomfortable by Annabelle’s intelligence. He is able to recognize her as an intellectual equal and that doesn’t bother him. (What bothers him is her social inferiority.)

The two lovers have a number of hurdles to overcome. Each has to learn what is truly important to them and what goals can be sacrificed. It makes for a page-turner of a Romance.