Saturday 23 December 2017

#CBR9 Book 114: "A Duke in Shining Armor" by Loretta Chase

Page count: 400 pages
Rating: 4 stars

Hugh Ancaster, seventh Duke of Ripley, is well-known in society (or possibly rather infamous) as one of the three dis-graces. He has returned from an extended trip to the continent just in time for his fellow dis-graces stag do. His best friend, the angel-faced Duke of Ashmont, has managed to find a bride and one from a respectable and upstanding family at that. Lady Olympia Hightower, only daughter of the Earl of Gonerby, is the lucky lady. Although she seems to be having second thoughts, as Hugh finds her about to climb out the window just moments before the ceremony. Having accepted the duties of best man, Ripley can't very well let the bride run off.

Lady Olympia Hightower should be deliriously happy. After seven seasons, during which she's been dubbed "Most Boring" and not received a single suitable marriage proposal, she is about to become a duchess. The fact that her absent-minded father is bad with money will no longer be a problem, and her many brothers will be more than amply provided for. Her future husband is wealthy, handsome and can be very charming (when he's not in his cups). Of course, he's a rake of the highest order, and Olympia isn't exactly expecting him to stay faithful, but she'll be a duchess and her wedding day should be a joyous one. Instead she's getting drunk on stolen brandy in the library and contemplating eloping. Alone.

Not only is she caught in the act by the groom's best friend, the infuriating Duke of Ripley, but he insists on following her, and trying to persuade her to return to the ceremony. Olympia is determined to go to her aunt's house in Twickenham, and persuades Ripley to take her there. It's become obvious to Ripley that Ashmont could probably benefit from properly wooing his bride a bit more before they actually tie the knot, so he reluctantly agrees to accompany Olympia, knowing that them disappearing together for a few hours will just be written off as one of the many pranks the dis-graces have played on each other and others throughout the years. What is supposed to be a simple journey of a few hours, turns complicated rather fast and Ripley is in for a much more time-consuming and complicated task than he ever suspected when he agreed to stand up for his best friend.

Dukes Prefer Blondes was one of my favourite romances last year, and I revisited it in audio book earlier this year. While some of Loretta Chase's Dressmakers series was so-so, she seems to be firmly back on form again now (possibly because she's taking a bit more time between each book). It's not been a super strong year for romances in general, I think, but this book is likely to end up of my romance top 10 and I was very entertained by it.

One of the remarkable things that Ms. Chase does in this book is make a story that takes place over less than a week not feel like the couple descend into insta-love. It's very correctly highlighted early in the book that Olympia has only had a few encounters with Ashmont before agreeing to be his wife, and that this really is perfectly normal in the higher levels of society. Husbands and wives of the upper classes didn't really need to know one another well, or even like each other much for a match to be a prosperous one. So while Olympia and Ripley only spend a few days together, those days really are packed with incident, and allow them to see the other in any number of stressful and unusual situations, probably getting a much clearer picture of each other's characters than any couple who have danced together at a few balls or chatted politely during a few drawing room encounters. It's also made clear that through the years Olympia has been out in society, she has certainly noticed and been attracted to Ripley (although never daring to dream she'd ever have a chance to even speak to him) and he has seen her and thought about her every so often, but clearly never felt that as a notorious rake he could ever speak to such a paragon of virtue.

Being tall, bespectacled and passionately interested in books and library organisation, Olympia won my heart even before she drunkenly tried to escape her own wedding in one of the first chapters. She's shocked to realise that Ripley isn't just being polite when she goes on about her love of ancient books and new ways to organise a library and amused that he's speaks to her as he would one of his male friends, rather than constantly consider her delicate sensibilities.

One of the flaws of the book is that we get a much clearer picture of who Olympia is than Hugh/Ripley. Apparently his father had some sort of mental episode while Hugh was still young and treated both his children and servants appallingly. Ripley's sister (who only appears briefly) is married to the third of the dis-graces, the Duke of Blackwood, and appears to be estranged from him. From what I can gather from Ms. Chase's blog, their book will be the third in the series, while Ashwood who (SPOILER) does not end up marrying Olympia, is the hero of the next book. Ripley is clearly a very loyal friend, even though it seems obvious from his nearly year-long holiday away from his cronies that he was growing a bit sick of their excessive and scandalous lifestyle. Much of the book he is agonising because he is falling for Olympia, but refuses to even contemplate betraying the trust of his friend. I wish Ms. Chase had included more back story on him, because while I feel I got to know Olympia well (and want to be besties with her), Ripley remained more of a cipher.

As well as the promise of future books featuring the Duke of Ashmont (who will no doubt be forced to mature and reconsider his life choices somewhat after the events of this book) and the Duke of Blackwood (who needs to reunite with his wife), there are hints of some sort of back story between Ripley's now widowed aunt and Ashwood's uncle, who is the main person responsible for him ever securing the hand of Lady Olympia. I hope that over the course of the next few books, we find out what went on in their mutual past and get to see if they can find some sort of happy future together too.

TL,DR: This book is fun and romantic and I highly recommend it.

Judging a book by its cover: So it seem like a new trend in romance covers isn't to do the traditional drawn covers, but just featuring a photograph, in this case of a bride running through the grounds of a stately home. Of course, the wedding dress looks way too contemporary to be anything Lady Olympia wears over the course of the book (and Loretta Chase can really be trusted to have researched her character's garments down to the last stitch), the woman in the picture is not wearing a ridiculous headdress, plus she appears to be running TOWARDS a big house, not AWAY from one. I appreciate the efforts here, people, but a little more could have gone a long way.

Crossposted on Cannonball Read.

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