Monday, February 22, 2021

BOOK REVIEW: The Heiress Gets a Duke by Harper St. George

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

The Heiress Gets a Duke by Harper St. George is garnering rave reviews, and they are well-deserved. This delightful Gilded Age Romance (book 1 in a new series: The Gilded Age Heiresses) follows the forced, rushed courtship of American heiress August Crenshaw and Evan Sterling, the duke of Rothschild.

Rothschild inherited the title along with its heavy responsibilities and enormous debts. The fate of hundreds of tenants, his widowed mother, and his two nearly-of-age-to-debut sisters hang on his ability to turn things around. He has been trying to economize and to earn a small living by illicit prize-fighting, but that will never be enough given the size of the hole they are in. His only hope to preserve the family name is to marry a wealthy heiress. His mother has picked one out for him: the visiting American, Violet Crenshaw, younger daughter of an Iron Works magnate.

The Crenshaws are in London for two reasons. The first is to visit a friend, a fellow heiress who was forced to marry an old, rather evil duke who needed money. The second is for Mr. Crenshaw to establish business contacts in London. Unbeknownst to the daughters, there is a third reason. Mrs. Crenshaw is desperate for the increased social status that a titled son-in-law would bring her. Mr. Crenshaw is equally desperate for the business opportunities such a connection would bring. The couple is anxious to sell their younger daughter to a man (any man) with a title. To their glee, they learn of Rothschild’s financial embarrassment and set about making the sale. Never mind that Violet is unwilling. (Neither of the parents think to offer up August. They don’t think anyone would be interested in a girl so “mannish.”)

August, the elder and stronger of the two, is determined that her sister not be condemned to an unhappy marriage with a stranger who only wants her money. Seeing that her parents will not be persuaded and have rationalized their own greed and status hunger with the argument that Violet does not know her own mind, August takes matters into her own hands. She decides to appeal to the duke. Certainly, the man cannot want an unwilling bride.

Rothschild doesn’t want an unwilling bride. However, he simply cannot believe a woman would be unwilling. At the same time, he is not particularly interested in Violet. He would prefer the fiery August. Understanding that it is all the same to Mr. and Mrs. Crenshaw, he chooses the elder daughter. To his befuddlement, August is equally unwilling. He hadn’t anticipating having to persuade a bride. Moreover, he’s under a time constraint that makes a long courtship impossible. He pushes too hard, too quickly, alienating August even more.

August is a business woman. She has put a great deal of effort into the iron works and is justified in believing her father values her work. So it comes as a shock to her that he would prefer a titled son-in-law and a domesticated daughter to the business partner she believed herself to be. She feels betrayed and more determined than ever not to wed the duke. 

Rothschild falls hard for August, precisely because she stands up to him. He is quick to learn from his mistakes and shows a good deal of personal growth. To her credit, she is able to appreciate his efforts to understand her. She comes to see his predicament and admires his dedication to duty. However, she still doesn’t want to be coerced by her parents into marriage.

The courtship becomes a combination of wooing and negotiation.

The sparks between the two are believable. The character development works very well. The parents are odious, but August’s supportive siblings lessen the horror of the family dynamics. The plot works well because the obstacle to their happily-ever-after ending is very real and more or less insurmountable. They will find a compromise. Love conquers all, of course, in a Romance. Yet there is an underlying twinge of realism in this novel that reminds the reader that marriage in the Regency period was no fairy tale.

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