A while back narfna mentioned trying romance novels in audio book format and I thought it sounded like an interesting idea. Then Audible, those b@stards, had a sale (I may have overspent with them lately) and Tessa Dare’s One Dance with a Duke was there. I’m not sorry I spent that $5 – even though its far from my favorite romance I read this year.
The basic premise from Goodreads:
A handsome and reclusive horse breeder, Spencer Dumarque, the fourth Duke of Morland, is a member of the exclusive Stud Club, an organization so select it has only ten members — yet membership is attainable to anyone with luck. And Spencer has plenty of it, along with an obsession with a prize horse, a dark secret, and, now, a reputation as the dashing “Duke of Midnight.” Each evening he selects one lady for a breathtaking midnight waltz. But none of the women catch his interest, and nobody ever bests the duke — until Lady Amelia d’Orsay tries her luck.
In a moment of desperation, the unconventional beauty claims the duke’s dance and unwittingly steals his heart. When Amelia demands that Spencer forgive her scapegrace brother’s debts, she never imagines that her game of wits and words will lead to breathless passion and a steamy proposal. Still, Spencer is a man of mystery, perhaps connected to the shocking murder of the Stud Club’s founder. Will Amelia lose her heart in this reckless wager or win everlasting love?
So, the standard romance stuff. What this novel does well is give us two interesting protagonists in a marriage of convenience plot. I particularly enjoyed the frankness of Amelia in her time and place. It’s not to say that I don’t truly and really enjoy a book where the older, wallflower leading lady is discovered to be something more, (see Romancing Mr. Bridgerton for example) or pushing the social mores (any Courtney Milan book) but it was refreshing on this outing to see Amelia embrace her historically appropriate goals: to marry, a love match all the better, but mostly because she wants the job of wife. And in the 1810s, it was absolutely a job; in her marriage to the Duke Amelia will now manage a series of households and all social responsibilities. Amelia has been ready for just such a reality, and embraces it, even as she is unsure whether or not she can trust and truly embrace her new husband.
We also see in Spencer that while who Amelia is works for him (he likes his ladies curvy and with a brain, he sees her skills and talents as valuable and her embroidery as art) he does not fall prey to the idea that she is somehow a hidden gem that society has missed. She is simply the right one for him. While Spencer can seem dominant and indifferent and often finds himself saying exactly the wrong thing, Dare gives good, believable explanations as to the development of his character and his Duke of Midnight persona. Dare also gets points for the gradual way in which Spencer and Amelia get to know each other and fall in love.
So what didn’t work for me, and has thus landed this book a 3 star rating? Here’s a handy list:
- Anytime anyone discusses horses, especially (but not limited to) that damn Ossiris and the formation of the Stud Club.
- Amelia’s savior complex as related to her younger brother Jack and his unrepentant ways.
- Also, Spencer’s inability to use his words when frustrated with Amelia’s savior complex.
- The MURDER subplot tenuously tying this novel to the next two in the series.
- The investigating of the MURDER subplot.
- The structural pacing of the MURDER subplot and Amelia’s savior complex completely disrupting the natural flow of the romance plot.
I will however be reading the rest of the series eventually, because what Dare gets right, she gets very right.