Tuesday, 8 September 2020

#CBR12 Book 57: "Daring and the Duke" by Sarah Maclean

Page count: 384 pages
Rating: 3 stars

Official book description:
Grace Condry has spent a lifetime running from her past. Betrayed as a child by her only love and raised on the streets, she now hides in plain sight as queen of London’s darkest corners. Grace has a sharp mind and a powerful right hook and has never met an enemy she could not best, until the man she once loved returns.

Single-minded and ruthless, Ewan, Duke of Marwick, has spent a decade searching for the woman he never stopped loving. A long-ago gamble may have lost her forever, but Ewan will go to any lengths to win Grace back… and make her his duchess.

Reconciliation is the last thing Grace desires. Unable to forgive the past, she vows to take her revenge. But revenge requires keeping Ewan close, and soon her enemy seems to be something else altogether—something she can’t resist, even as he threatens the world she's built, the life she's claimed…and the heart she swore he'd never steal again.

Spoiler warning! I don't think I'll be able to properly review this book without going into quite some detail about what I think worked, and in what ways the story just didn't deliver for me. So if you haven't read the book and would prefer to remain unspoiled about plot specifics, probably best if you skip this review.

Still here? Cool cool. Daring and the Duke is the concluding volume in Sarah Maclean's Bareknuckle Bastards trilogy. The man the rest of world knows as Robert Matthew Carrick, the Duke of Marwick and his half-brothers and the woman he loves knows as Ewan, has been the villain in the preceding two novels in the series, trying his very best to ruin his two half-brothers both financially and personally while trying to track down the woman they consider their sister and he, Ewan, loves obsessively. When told in Wicked and the Wallflower that she had died, Ewan's shattering grief turned to rage and he became unhinged and deeply destructive. By the end of Brazen and the Beast, Ewan's quest for revenge against the two men with whom he shared a father, who he had trusted to keep his beloved safe and then was fooled into thinking had failed at that task, had ended up costing six people their lives and his half-brothers a considerable amount of money.

But of course, Grace, the illegitimate daughter of the former Duchess of Marwick (presented as a baby the world as Marwick's son and heir and her true identity hidden) never died. Along with the two men she's chosen to consider her brothers, she rules Covent Garden as Dahlia, the owner of an extremely profitable pleasure house catering to women. She's observed Ewan's increasingly more out of control attempt to find her and later to avenge her apparent death, and she's unimpressed. She intends to show him once and for all how little he means to her, crush his spirit and send him packing. But first, she personally nurses him back to health after the explosion he caused on the docks, which nearly killed Grace's brother's fiancĂ©e. Once he's strong enough, she stages a public boxing match, where he refuses to fight back as she beats him up. 

She believes him to be gone for good and tells herself that this is fine. Of course, about a year later, he's back in London, claiming to be looking for a wife. He arranges a grand ball, with the sole intention of luring Grace into his presence once again. She lies to herself that as long as she's masked and disguised, hooking up with him won't be a problem. He shows up in Covent Garden with a big chest full of money to pay reparations to the families of the men he killed and starts doing manual labour on the docks for Whit's wife, to show that he's a changed man now and wants to make amends for all the damage he did.

This is the second of Maclean's romance trilogies where a really shitty duke needs to make amends and grovel on an epic scale to be a satisfying hero in the final volume. While the duke of Haven in Day of the Duchess caused less death and destruction overall, I still found him even more loathsome than Ewan (who is at least super messed up because of the continual torture he was subjected to by his father throughout his life). I did not, however, feel that Ewan's grovelling and atttempts to make up for his former actions were enough to redeem him. I also found Grace's plan of first tenderly nursing him back to health only to beat him up publically to be deeply unsatisfactory. I will say that Ewan's final plan for getting rid of the family legacy he so detested to get his happy ending with Grace was pretty hardcore. 

The reason this book is three stars is that I really enjoyed the presence of Devil, Beast and their interaction with the families they've now established. Otherwise, it's unlikely it would have gotten more than two and a half stars. Once upon a time, Maclean was an auto-buy and pre-order author for me. Now she's on "buy on sale", which makes me sad. I still like her championing the romance genre publically as much as she does, but it's been a long time since she wrote a book I loved as much as One Good Earl Deserves a Lover

Judging a book by its cover: I know some people really like these covers, I find them way too anachronistic. On this one, I love the cover model's stunning red hair (like our heroine Grace/Dahlia sports), but the dress is simply all wrong. First of all, I would have loved to see a cover model wearing what Grace/Dahlia wears for most of the book, tight breeches, leather boots, elaborate silk corsets with a fancy overcoat. If Avon felt they had to put the cover model in a dress, they could have at least tried to find something that didn't look like a prom dress made from a rain slicker. Grace/Dahlia does wear a GOLDEN gown at one point in the book, but it looks nothing like the dress portrayed on the cover, nor is it bright canary yellow. Yellow and gold are NOT the same colour!

Crossposted on Cannonball Read.

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