Sunday, May 12, 2013

Review: The Duke Diaries by Sophia Nash

Verity Fitzroy is an unconventional young lady who happens to belong to a very unconventional family. As the middle child, she often gets lost and overlooked -- and that's fine for Verity, whose one great gift is writing. Being the sister of the Duke of Candover gives Verity the chance to eavesdrop and write about very interesting things -- and, over the years, she has kept her observations in volumes of diaries. She's figured out her brother and the rest of the royal entourage, has pegged their characteristics and even compared them to animals in the wild. One of the members of the royal entourage continues to elude Verity's keen eye: Rory Lennox, the first Duke of Abshire and her brother's former best friend.

Rory is a mystery: What happened to his friendship with James Fitzroy? How exactly did he gain the title of duke? What does he do in the Royal Entourage?

When Rory wakes up in Verity's room: in her bed. With Verity in his arms. After one of the most infamous, notorious, controversial nights in the history of the Royal Entourage, Rory and the rest of the entourage goes into damage control. For Rory, all he needs to do is to marry Verity.

Except Verity doesn't want to marry him.

To prevent further scandal, the Prince orders his Royal Entourage to leave London and gave them all a month to fix the situation. Verity was also packed off by her brother, James, to quash any rumors of her involvement. So Rory and Verity find themselves back in Derbyshire where an undying devotion first started and where a lifelong friendship ended.

The royal entourage's (and the Prince's) problem escalates when a newspaper starts printing incendiary opinions about them and the flames are fanned even more when excerpts from a diary, chronicling the escapades of the dukes of the realm are published -- and guess whose diaries are being referenced?

I really like Verity. She has a very interesting family and she happens to be the least interesting one -- her sisters are all gifted in Math but Verity doesn't possess an ounce of her sisters' genius or their mother's knowledge of and interest in nature. Instead of moping, or feeling sorry for herself, she finds her own niche and flourishes in it. She discovers that she has a natural gift for writing. While her work isn't world-changing, it is life-changing for her. Her writing gives her confidence and a better understanding of the glittery world she lives in.

It also gives Verity the upper hand when it comes to Rory. She understands the narrative of love and marriage in the ton: the first is rare, the latter is convenient. And, while she's loved Rory all her life, she views the opportunity she is given now with suspicion. She doesn't want to trap Rory into marriage; she wants Rory to want the marriage.

From not-quite friends, to friends, to lovers, Sophia Nash has set a very interesting rhythm to Verity and Rory's story: while their story begins in a bed, the author decides not to rush our hero and heroine into a whirlwind marriage. Although, if Rory had his way, he'd probably would've wanted to solve the problem quickly and expediently, but Rory isn't the one in control -- it's Verity who is setting the pace for their courtship, and she isn't content with quick, painless and convenient when it comes to love.

"...I had hoped to save myself the trouble. But if you persist in this determination to ruin yours and your family's name, then I can be counted on to reconsider the other option." He paused. "Enough of this, V. Name the day."

"Of course. The seventeenth of July."

She almost laughed when she saw the odd combination of relief and fear mingling on his features.

"In the year of our Lord, nineteen hundred and nine," she added.
- p. 112

So the story proceeds with Verity and Rory gradually peeling back the layers of their lives, developing their relationship more convincingly. In the end, when they both profess their love for one another, we know where it is coming from and we believe it.

There is a lot of bridges that needed mending in this story:
1. Rory and James' friendship
2. Verity's friendship with Esme, her cousin (and heroine of The Art of Duke Hunting)
3. Rory and Verity's relationship
4. The Prince's relationship with his Royal Entourage

There has been a lot of humor and laugh-out-loud moments in Nash's series but the lives of her characters have always been shadowed with a hint of sadness and wistfulness, which underpins each of their stories -- and it shows through very clearly in The Duke Diaries. There seems to be a lot of things that need forgiving, but these are all essential to Rory and Verity's stories. Rory still lives with the guilt of a mistake made so many years ago (one of the mysteries of Rory. Read: ) -- he lives his entire life doing penance, seeking absolution for it.

Love is the key. Rory never thought he would be worthy of anyone's love and the irony is, love is exactly what he needed to save himself. It is the same for Verity as well. She had long trained herself not to depend on anyone, to rely solely on her own abilities and intellect to get things done. She is central to the tangle that the Royal Entourage find themselves in and she is willing to sacrifice herself if it would mean saving her brother and everyone else's reputation. Verity never considered that she had a partner who wasn't only ready and willing -- but very able to help her handle the situation. All she needed to do was to take a leap of faith and let Rory love her and take care of her.

"I could utter a dozen hideously romantic words to you, or patiently explain everything I will do to make all your worries disappear." He slowly pulled her into his arms, and she did not resist. He settled her in the cradle of his lap. "But what I really want to do is hold you, comfort you, do a few wild wicked things with you, and then afterward I will promise you a few things that will ease your heart and your mind. Will you allow me to do this?"
- p. 291

This is an amazing story: layered, nuanced, subtle, complex and infinitely pleasing. The characters are well-rounded, relatable and genuine -- I especially love the camaraderie that exists between the members of the entourage and the comfortable companionship that exists between our hero and heroine.

The Duke Diaries is Book 3 in Sophia Nash's The Royal Entourage series. I'm looking forward to book four, The Once and Future Duchess, which will feature the only lady in the Royal Entourage, Isabelle, the Duchess of March. Release date is October, 2013. (I'm also a bit devastated to know that this series is ending already. Sob!) To find out more about Sophia Nash and her books, visit her website. She's also on Facebook and on Goodreads.

To read my review of the previous books, click below:
Between the Duke and the Deep Blue Sea
The Art of Duke Hunting



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