Sunday 2 February 2014

#CBR6 Book 9: "Romancing the Duke" by Tessa Dare

Page count: 384 pages
Rating. 4.5 stars

Miss Isolde Ophelia Goodnight, or Izzy, is the orphaned daughter of the author of a beloved series of adventure stories. She has barely a penny to her name, so when she is told that her recently deceased godfather has left her Gostley Castle, it seems too good to be true. Of course, her castle is a filthy ruin, currently inhabited by the scarred, bitter and extremely rude Duke of Rothbury, who's adamant that he didn't sell any castle, and it therefore can't belong to Izzy. He wants to drive her away, so he can go back to his brooding. She refuses to leave, and dares him to try his worst to drive her away.

Realising that he needs to prove her wrong, Ransom, the duke, hires her as his secretary, so she can go through the piles of correspondence that have piled up since the accident that left him with a wicked facial scar and near blindness. Izzy agrees to spend the mornings sorting through his letters, but insists on spending her afternoons trying to restore the castle to a semblance of comfort, aided by the vicar's daughter, a huge fan of her father's stories. Ransom, quite happy to sulk in the bat-infested ruin, now has to engage daily with Izzy's determined cheer, not to mention the hordes of fans who keep turning up to talk to little Izzy Goodnight.

The readers of her father's books still see Izzy as the innocent girl in the melodramatic adventure stories. In reality, she's a pragmatic and fiercely optimistic spinster in her mid-twenties and she's not afraid to admit that she finds the cranky duke who keeps trying to shock her with profanities and improper behaviour devilishly attractive. While her father's Moranglian tales are full of courtly love and chaste maidens and dashing knights, the actual reality of her upbringing was not very idyllic, and she's clearly met her fair share of disappointment. When she finally finds herself the owner of her very own castle, she's not going to let anything stop her from taking possession of it. She's a great heroine, and probably actually far too good for Ransom, who was a bit of an idiot.

Ransom is clearly modelled on the Gothic heroes of old. He's holed up in the ruins of the castle with his wolfish dog and one loyal family retainer, after he was badly scarred in a duel. During his voluntary exile, his business managers have clearly started mismanaging his finances, and it's only when Izzy shows up and he's forced to actually review his accounts that he discovers that he may end up losing more than Gostley castle if he doesn't stop wallowing and prove to the world that he's someone to be reckoned with.

I adored this book, and found it a delightful and highly enjoyable romp. The story is full of convenient coincidences, and silliness and frankly rather anachronistic details, like cosplaying fantasy fans roaming the Northumbrian countryside and it didn't bother me in the slightest. I thought Izzy's pet ermine was funny, I liked that Abigail, the vicar's daughter, who in romance from a lesser author would have likely been a bitchy rival to Izzy instead became her supporting friend. I found the banter and battle of wills between Izzy and Ransom enchanting. I would love to see the complete list of romances there are loving references to here (I'm sure I didn't even catch half). I absolutely understand that this novel may not be for everyone, and that the silliness and suspension of disbelief may be strained too much, and therefore wouldn't recommend it as a starting point for those who have never read Tessa Dare's books before. A Week to Be Wicked is excellent, though.

Crossposted on Cannonball Read.

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