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When Maire Claremont announced that she would be writing funny Regencies, I was instantly intrigued. I love her books as Maire Claremont -- I love how dark and angsty they are, so I wondered how her particular way of storytelling would translate to humour.
Once Upon a Duke is her debut novel as Eva Devon and the first book in her Duke's Club series. It features Kathryn, a wealthy widow newly arrived to London, determined to experience everything that London has to offer -- and she means EVERYTHING. She promised herself a scandal, and doesn't shy away from pursuing it. Her target is Ryder, the Duke of Darkwell, a man known for his sexual prowess and emotional distance -- two of Kate's requirements. She's not looking at long-term attachments, she's just in London to have fun, and enjoy the freedom of being a widow with a lot of money.
Kate bit back a smile. She'd planned for this for months, and the attention focused in their direction was wonderful confirmation she was no longer a country mouse. Oh no, she was a woman ready for scandal.
- Chapter 5
I'm a bit on the fence about Kate's decision to court scandal -- I thought it showed really poor judgment on her part, especially given the reason for it. Is it really, only just to spite her late husband? I would have loved it if she had decided on this course simply because -- I thought it was ironic that she was trying to break free from her late husband, but her present decisions were still controlled by him.
This was what she'd wanted. To be part of this life, and it was fascinating. The carefree extravagance of these people who did nothing but play and seek out entertainment. Perhaps Percy had played in this very room. He had drunk champagne, thrown away her money and spent a bit of time on the couches in the shadows. Well, now it was her turn to have some freedom. Freedom he had denied her.
- Chapter 5
Perhaps if I was reading this without knowledge of the author's other works, it would be fine, but, I couldn't help but compare Once Upon a Duke to Maire's Dark Trilogy (I like the latter more) -- I actually enjoyed the "dark/sad" parts of this novel more. When the author writes as Maire Claremont, she's able to maintain the drama and high emotion of her stories from beginning to end, but she seems to be a little less consistent when it comes to humour.
There are some outrageous moments in Once Upon a Duke, and I love dialogue between Kate and Ryder --
..."I wish to finally know pleasure." lord alone knew Percy Caldwell had given her only enough intimacy to be declared her husband.
A soft laugh rumbled from the duke's lips.
She frowned. "You think I jest?"
The Duke of Darkwell brushed her hand aside then lifted his own strong one to slide a curl back from her forehead. His fingers lingered at her temple and wound into the curls just behind her ear. "I believe you to be quite serious. Your being here, along, in my room, makes me quite aware how you wish me to -- how did you put it?" He gazed down at her through half closed eyes, "Pleasure you."
Kate couldn't stop herself from smiling, even as heat raced straight between her thighs.
"The real question is exactly how did you wish me to pleasure you?"
She stilled under his touch. Was there more than one way? The possibility was thrilling. "Tell me the choices and I'll tell you how I wish it."
- Chapter 2
But there are some parts of the novel that makes me think that the author is still stuggling not to give over to the "dark side." There are hints of it in the story: Ryder and the ivory-colored ribbon on his wrist, his mood swings, etc. This is what made it a compelling read for me: how Ryder struggled to hold on to his past as he moved towards the future. I think it's a valid desire to want to keep the memory of his late wife alive and really sympathised with him as he struggled to remember her. Letting go of the past is easier said than done, and it is more difficult when the past involves a person you loved very deeply. In Ryder's case, there was a question whether it was love that was driving him or if it was guilt over her death.
He let Jane's birthday pass without notice.
Even now the thought made him want to vomit.
- Chapter 23
I could also sympathise with Kate: it's difficult to have come second to Ryder's late wife, Jane. She's really fighting for her space in his heart. I really would have wanted to read more about their struggle, but the story mostly glosses over this part. The resolution also happens a bit too quickly. (The presentation of the conflict and resolution happen in the last two chapters of the book.)
Overall, this was a good read and a good start to the series. The author has introduced the three other members of the club: Jack Eversleigh, the Duke of Hunt, the Duke of Roth (only mentioned, but hasn't really shown up in this novel), and the Duke of Aston (whose sense of humour is a bit odd -- in an intriguing way).
Once Upon a Duke is Book 1 in Eva Devon's Duke's Club series. To find out more about Eva Devon and her books, click below:
***To read my reviews of her books written as Maire Claremont, click here.