Monday, September 9, 2013

Review: The Inconvenient Duchess by Christine Merrill


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The Radwells are a family of secrets and enmity -- they get along best when they are apart from one another, but the Dowager Duchess of Haughleigh can no longer deny the need to secure the succession and so she summons her eldest, Marcus, the current Duke of Haughleigh to her bedside to extract a promise from him.

Tired of his mother's interference and her many ploys to get him to marry, Marcus does not believe the deathbed tableau his mother has set up for him but, to humor her, he agrees to meet and to consider the young lady his mother's former classmate is taking care of.

Who is this mysterious former classmate? What does she hold over his mother? And who is this young lady who dares to come to his house and see herself married to a duke?

Marcus doesn't have time to ponder the questions or the repercussions of the promise he made to her -- until one rainy day, a few weeks after his mother's death, a lady walks up to his doorstep and announces that she is expected by the Dowager Duchess and by the Duke of Haughleigh.

Lady Miranda Grey is a lady in name only -- with no money and no prospects, she follows Cici's urging to go to Devon and pay a visit to the Radwells. She arrives, tired and wet, with a small trunk and no chaperone. It is that last small detail that seals Marcus's fate -- and, to save Miranda's reputation (and his), he promptly proposes marriage to her.

And like that, Miranda Grey becomes a lady in truth, a duchess in fact, -- and gets swept up in the tumultuous lives of the Radwells.

The Inconvenient Duchess by Christine Merrill is the first Harlequin Historical that I am reviewing for this blog. I discovered Christine Merrill through Read a Romance Month and I thought her post on Day 18 was beautiful and eloquent. I contacted Bobbi of RARM asking for which book to read first and she reminded me that one of Christine's books was being offered for free so I got a copy and read it.

And loved it. All 292 pages of wonderful words and of breathtaking storytelling and of a most complex hero and a most capable heroine.

Marcus Radwell's first marriage ended tragically with the death of his wife in childbed, but the deeper story is that Bethany had never loved Marcus and only wanted him for his title. Marcus reminds me of Mary Balogh's heroes: a bit emotionally distant at the beginning, a bit gruff and a bit too serious.

Now his second marriage is off to a bad start: married too quickly and conveniently to avoid gossip to a woman he believes his mother had schemed with:

His business-like demeanour evaporated under the strain. "That is not what I want," he snapped. "But it is what must be done. You are here now, no thanks to my late mother for making the muddle and letting me sort it out. And don't pretend that this wasn't your goal in coming here. You were dangling after a proposal, and you received one within moments of our meeting. This is a success for you. A coup. Can you not at least pretend to be content? ..."
- p. 28

They are virtually strangers. There is resentment, mistrust and anger -- but Miranda has a very optimistic, very positive view of the situation, and I liked that about her. She's had a difficult life and is in a hostile environment but she's just so brave and quite cheeky -- and very determined to make her situation work.

"Damn the Winslows!"

"Damn them indeed, sir," she whispered quietly, "but do it quietly. They are probably listening at the door."
- p. 65

I thoroughly enjoyed reading about how she transformed Marcus's house and whipped his staff into shape. (Read: Chapter 7 and 9) As the house gets sorted, their lives and hearts seem to follow suit -- and our hero and heroine develop a wonderful relationship. There is still a strain of sadness in Miranda, traces of her past life -- and it lends the novel a very poignant tone.
"You had no hopes? No dreams? No girlish fantasies?"

"I suppose ..." She paused and began again. "I left girlish fantasies behind long ago. It was quite plain that I would marry the man who would have me and make the best of it in any case. One can aim high, hoping to hit a star, and miss the target entirely."

"But if one aims too low?" he asked.

"At least one does not lose the arrow. It seemed foolish to hope for a particular type of husband, when I would be saying yes to the man who offered, regardless of his features, his wealth or his personality."
- pp 190-191

Marcus's brother St. John lends to the air of mystery that surrounds the Radwells. It is clear that he and his brother do not have a good relationship. They deal with each other with civility but one can sense the tension, the resentment that threatens to bubble over to the surface.

Between the lines. Christine Merrill does an excellent job of conveying quite clearly that there is something deeper, something hidden, something unsaid -- and it makes for a very layered, very nuanced, very satisfying read.

The Inconvenient Duchess is Christine Merrill's debut (published in 2006) and the first book in her Radwells series. To find out more about Christine and her books, click below:

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