Short Version: 4.5 stars. I adored the hero and heroine and can’t remember another time I liked both protagonists so much. The plot was very good, but not quite great, so read it for Clara and Oliver, their every moment together is a delight.
Long Version: Looking forward to Clara’s book in Loretta Chase’s Dressmaker’s Series, I was not disappointed. You have to love it when it feels like a book was written with you in mind. Dukes Prefer Blondes featured a Nick and Nora Charles style courtship but, as it is a historical romance, in the Regency. Chase uses the narrative structure incredibly effectively to both maintain the brittle, consciously closed-off outward appearances of the main characters while still sharing their true feelings and the effect they have on one another. All books with an omniscient narrator can do this, but this genre really lends itself to it, and few novels have done it quite so well as Dukes Prefer Blondes.
Clara is beautiful and rich which is hard to feel sorry for, but she is also considered the top marital prize of her season and her time as a trophy is wearing on her. Men pursue and propose to her, but only for the potential notoriety of being the man who gains her acquiescence. They don’t really see her; they talk at Clara, not to her. She is “wrapped in cotton wool” and stifled in every attempt to assert, not even her independence, but her brainpower and energies in anything other than the most safe and stultifying activities. Her mother is very concerned about social status and any notion of womanhood which maintains it, so Clara is allowed to participate in charity work and her efforts bring her into contact with an impoverished young woman looking for her missing brother. When Clara needs someone to help her locate the boy, she is brought to barrister Oliver “Raven” Radford.
Having embraced a nickname originally intended as an insult, Raven is the cousin of a duke and the son of a younger son who made good practicing law. He’s not touched by scandal, but his family is, though they don’t care – at least not until he falls for Lady Clara. A man of searing intellect and deficient in tact, he is startled and fascinated by the goddess who has appeared before him and appears to have wits on par with her beauty, not that he will admit that out loud, although occasionally his powerful reaction to his magnificent equal overwhelms him long enough for some imprudent physical contact. Raven helps Clara out and she plagues him until he marries her. He knows they are a bad match on paper, as deeply as he may want her, but he cannot resist and she does not play fair. In the end, they find a surprising way forward and Clara gets the freedom she hoped for, but not in the form she expected.
The sub-plots about Raven’s contentious relationship with London’s underworld did not work as well for me as the love story, but as long as Raven and Clara were in the same room, I didn’t need anything else. Dukes Prefer Blondes had all the smart banter I love and managed to convey true depth of emotion without any flowery speeches and dramatic declarations which would make people trained not to express emotion uncomfortable.You want to read this book, you’ll want to re-read it, too. I have added Dukes Prefer Blondes to my streamlined recommendations list to make sure as many people know that as possible.