Friday, August 8, 2014

Review: The Unexpected Duchess by Valerie Bowman

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How do you solve a problem like Lucy Upton? This seems to be the question foremost on Derek, the Duke of Claringdon's mind, as he tries to find away to court Lucy's friend, Cassandra. Derek thinks Lucy is to bossy, too outspoken, too hoydenish ... and, much to his chagrin, utterly alluring.

Lucy knows she is showing the worst side of herself to a very important, and well-liked gentleman, but she can't help herself. She believes she is protecting her friend, and ensuring that Cassandra gets a chance at love with her childhood friend, Julian. Cassandra has successfully rebuffed many other proposals, but she can't seem to shake Derek off -- and, so, Lucy has stepped in -- to give voice (literally!) to Cassandra's unwillingness.

Derek hates having to impose on a young lady, who obviously is not interested in him. But, a promise to his closest friend, Swift, has prompted him to seek out Cassandra and her hand in marriage.

There's a bit of Much Ado About Nothing, and bit about identities (that Julian and Swift are the same person) that makes this a very engaging and enjoyable read. Lucy and Derek rival Beatrice and Benedick in their word matches and one can really see how very well suited they are for one another -- but I could not help frowning a bit at the outrageousness of Lucy's plans. I know that it is part of Lucy's tragic backstory is that she was ignored by her parents, who wished she was born a boy and how she tried to live up to it -- her behaviour has made her quite unpopular in society and the author reveals how Lucy is affected by other people's poor opinion of her, so I could not help but wonder why Lucy never made the effort to control her own impulses.

The crowd was watching her but instead of feeling self-conscious or shy, Lucy found she relished the attention. It had been an age since anyone in the ton took any notice of her. And here was the dashing Duke of Claringdon challenging her to a verbal duel. The best pear was that it seemed to be enhancing her reputation instead of shredding it to bits as Cass had feared.
- Chapter 13

Derek, I think, was the recipient of really poor manners from Lucy and he bore it very well. I have to laud Derek for his determination to honour the promise he made to his dying friend, and could imagine the difficulty of his position: not only does he have to convince Cassandra of his intent, he also has to convince himself. Derek's mind and heart are still in the Continent, where many of his compatriots are still struggling to return home from. He's been given the title in recognition for the service he has done to his country but, in Derek's heart, he knows he could do more. I guess it's why he and Lucy work so well together -- with her, he is able to live in the moment and be in the moment. It is only with her that he is fully present.

What Valerie Bowman is very clear in her story, however, is the idea of love and romance. Cassandra and Lucy are both romantic and dream of marrying for love. Cassandra has loved Julian forever, but he is engaged to her cousin. He is away at war, and she clings to the hope that, when he returns, he just might notice her. Despite Lucy's outward behaviour against Derek, she also believes in finding happiness in marriage -- while she claims indifference on her own marriage, one can see from how Lucy talks and thinks that she is a bit of a softie at heart. The introduction of Christian, Lord Berkeley serves to prove to Lucy that what she thinks she wants is very different from what she needs: on paper, Christian is the perfect match for her -- a man whose expectations of her aren't coloured by her past behaviour and who seems to accept her as she is -- but, it is Derek, who really, really makes her heart sing.

The Unexpected Duchess does a good job of introducing the three ladies who are all very interesting individuals. From what I can see, the author really intends to explore the enemies-to-friends dynamic (based on Garret and Jane's interactions) and I look forward to reading the rest of this series.

Final note: I love how Bowman describes Lucy in this passage:
...the lady had a rapier for a tongue. She jabbed with nouns, riposted with verbs. And she delivered adjectives with a particular flourish. By all accounts, she was a master. One who could rip an overzealous beau to shreds in mere seconds.
- Chapter 2

The Unexpected Duchess is the first book in Valerie Bowman's The Playful Brides series. To find out more about Valerie Bowman and her books, click below:


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