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After a year of searching, the new Duke of Beckworth has been found, and it's the most unlikely person in all of England: Nathaniel Hughes grew up poor, and with no advantages. After Caroline's father refused his suit, he went off to America and made his money in copper mines. He's a self-made millionaire who never thought he'd have a reason to return to England, and, in truth, even when his childhood friends, Marcus and Caroline, deliver the news of his new status, there's a part of Nate that hesitates to return.
Sabrina Darby closes the A Year Without a Duke series with this reflection on choice and duty -- it is only a fortunate few who don't have to make the difficult choice between the two, and, unfortunately, Nate isn't one of them. But why should he give up everything he's worked so hard for to fulfill his duty as the new Duke of Beckworth?
He has a wonderful life in New York. He has the comfort of certainty -- and the comfort of his friendship with Lizzie and John, his secretary and her younger brother, whom he rescued and have been living with him for the past year. If he returns to England, he will be returning to face problems, debts, and the urgent need to marry. The Beckworth legacy was never something he grew up with, so it's a completely foreign idea to him to have to sacrifice his freedom to preserve the Hughes line.
I have to say that this isn't so much about falling in love, as it is a discovery of something that's been under our characters' noses all this while. I didn't understand the self-denial when they were still living in New York, because it was obvious to everyone that they were attracted to each other, but it becomes the source of unbearable tension when Nate returns to England. There was already a social gap between the two when they were in New York, but, in England, Nate is now a Duke, and Lizzie is still just his secretary. All of a sudden, there's a hyper-awareness of the social divide between the two, as they are reminded of what they ought and ought not to be doing. It did become a bit repetitive as our hero and heroine acknowledge their desires, try to hide it, and then fail miserably in doing so. I felt their conversations didn't really do much to develop their relationship, because they spent so much time dancing around the "elephant in the room" -- and I was impatient for when this slowly simmering volcano would erupt. I was a bit surprised with the role Lady Maude plays in this novella, considering she hadn't really spoken in Jilted in January.
What I also appreciate about Darby's novella is how she highlights the duties of a Duke. I felt that this aspect of the novel was more compelling, because it shows that the life of a duke isn't as glamorous as many people believe it to be: it's days of consultations with managers, solicitors, housekeepers, etc. It's making decisions that affect the lives of the hundreds/thousands of people who rely on the duchy for their living. It's admirable how Nate throws himself into his new responsibility. I also loved seeing Colin Ford and Edward Coyne (from the previous books) interact with the new Duke, and Darby does a good job of tying in and resolving all the previous books in the series within her story.
The character that stole the show for me was Lizzie's half-brother, John: who never quite completely belongs to any place or to any home. The son of Lizzie's father with a former slave, John must make his own way in a world that hasn't really fully accepted his existence -- and he is being very brave, and very patient about it. There's a quiet strength to him, and a thoughtful intelligence, and I love how he perceived the world, and his opinions on Nate and Lizzie's relationship. I would love to read a stand-alone book featuring John, in the future. ^_^
A Duke by December is the last book in the A Year Without a Duke series. To find out more about Sabrina Darby and her books, click below: