New author! Juliana Gray is a very strong historical romance writer with a wonderful turn of phrase, a gift for simile, and great smolder. It is such an unexpected pleasure when a book randomly selected from the romance spinner at one’s library results in a new novelist to enjoy. I went back the next day, and the next, to get more of her books. Gray will be going on my woefully short good authors list and may well end up as an autobuy.
The Princesses in Hiding trilogy features three German aristocrats, Emilie, Stefanie, and Luisa, who have fled political unrest in their home country to arrive in London and the bosom of an uncle who has the least British-sounding aristocratic title in all of romance: the Duke of Olympia. A conniving old son of a bitch thoroughly experienced in shenanigans, he trains each woman and then sends her into hiding as a young man and, coincidentally, the story of what happens to each of them takes about 350 pages to tell.
How to Tame Your Duke
The Duke of Olympia arranges for Princess Emilie to be hired by the Duke of Ashland as a tutor for his teenaged son, the Marquess. Aristocracy is very thick on the ground in this series. In the wilds of Yorkshire, Emilie succeeds in her efforts to appear to be a bearded male despite my extremely serious misgivings about how convincing a fake beard would be up close on a day-to-day basis in 1889. Ashland is big, battle-scarred, and several other Gothic things, but basically a very nice, very intense man. His Duchess decamped 12 years ago, so it is just him and his son in his palace on the moors which, sadly, is not also in the style of a Moorish palace. Emilie and Ashland fall in love, not while she is pretending to be a man, but while she is pretending to be a prostitute which is not quite as squicky as it sounds. All the truths come out, except the one about who is trying to harm the princesses, and this particular one weds her
I liked the characters in How to Train Your Duke, I even liked the young Marquess. Gray did not dwell overmuch in the machinations and subterfuge for which I was grateful. Emilie was a strong woman and determined not to be treated as the kind of pawn women often were in her situation. She takes what she wants.
How to Master Your Marquis
Princess Stefanie ends up hiding in the home of a renowned criminal defense barrister (that’s going to come in handy later) who just happens to be the close friend of a man so good-looking that Stefanie refers to him as “The Archangel” in her head. James Lambton, Marquis of Hatherfield, is a glorious, beautiful, and charming man. Estranged from his parents, he spends a great deal of time at his friend’s home. His presence increases when he meets Stefanie and realises IMMEDIATELY that she is a woman dressed as a man and that she requires protection. I thought it a bit much that Ashland didn’t figure Emilie out sooner, so kudos to Gray on the logic of this twist. Unfortunately for Hatherfield, his friend’s house also contains one Lady Charlotte who is determined, and in league with Hatherfield’s parents, to land the Marquis. In a historically unrealistic, but modern applause worthy move, Hatherfield exploits the horror at his clearly inappropriate infatuation with the law clerk and lets everyone think he is gay and therefore relieve the marital pressure.
I was charmed by both of the main characters in How to Master Your Marquis; however, there was a plotting element involving sexual abuse that I did not like as it took me out of the fantasy realm these novels dwell in. It was not an exploitative or a particularly large element, but its very presence diminished the book for me. I have zero tolerance for subplots like these in romance. Caveat reader.
The last book in the trilogy, How to School Your Scoundrel, comes out in June and I will be looking for it at my library. In the meantime, I am working on another Gray trilogy, Affairs by Moonlight, and the titular rogue of How to School Your Scoundrel appears as the utter bastard of a villain in one of those books. It will be interesting to see how well Gray can reform such a reprehensible individual.
- The men are referred to almost exclusively by their titles, i.e. Ashland and Hatherfield, or their last names.
- Aristocrats have servants, lots of servants. It’s an uncomfortable period detail to those of us not enamored of inherited privilege, but an accurate one.
- Hatherfield is a rower. This explains his beautiful physique and provides a rare thing in romance: justifiable muscles.
- Stefanie and Emilie slept in the same bed growing up. What an excellent period detail.
- How to Master Your Marquis has a simultaneous flash forward plot that Gray dovetails extremely well with the present story line.