Sometimes I just really need a ridiculous, historically inaccurate Tessa Dare book in my life. Disfigured Duke (from the war!) wants heir so he proposes marriage to the first convenient woman, the seamstress who was to have sewn his former fiancé’s wedding gown? Sign me up.
A historically accurate version of this book would have been so depressing. Emma (a seamstress, formerly a disgraced vicar’s daughter) would have worked her fingers to the bone, losing her eyesight by the age of thirty and then descended into penury. Ash would have been in pain the rest of his life, and his servants would probably have not given two shits. Most likely he would have married some young girl who would have borne him his heir and they would have been cordial but not emotionally connected. He would have become a hermit whose only outlet was beating miscreants up on the streets. He would then have been arrested and tried for vigilantism or murder or whatever else because he’s wandering around London at night assaulting people while wearing a cape and a hat.
But because this IS a Tessa Dare book (and also a slight retelling of Beauty and the Beast), instead we get a ridiculous proposal accepted between two people of staggering class difference who then fall improbably and adorably in love. We get servants who act as pseudo-romance readers, pushing for every trope in the book to befall our heroes so that they may fall in love (said servants are also shockingly informal for the time period.) We get a hero who doesn’t give a single shit that he’s married to a seamstress, and there is almost no fallout for either of them. A heroine who finds an even more improbable group of eerily un-contemporary awesome women friends, who just happen to reside in her neighborhood and calls her scarred husband by ridiculous pet names, because he won’t tell her what to call him besides “Duke”. And it’s funny!
In short, it’s a fantasy, even more so than most romance novels, and I loved every second of it. I think it might be my favorite of her books since Romancing the Duke. I had so much fun it made me want to punch anyone who disparages either romance or fantasy. There is absolutely nothing wrong with imagining a world where a woman gaining an emotionally open partner who treats her with respect should be something that is mocked.
My only complaint is that Ash’s self-image issues seemed like they needed to be justified or dwelled on a little bit more. We don’t really see anyone reacting negatively to him, just get his memories secondhand of bad experiences, and Emma is so attracted to him immediately (which should be obvious to even Ash once they start humping like bunnies) it’s a little hard to fathom why he would continue to believe she would be disgusted by him. It’s a small complaint, but it would have just needed to be tweaked a little bit for me to not notice it.
I listened to the audio version. Previous Tessa Dare books I’ve listened to have been narrated by Carmen Rose, who I’ve always enjoyed, but I loved the new narrator, Mary Jane Wells. She particularly gave Ash a witty bite to his words that made me laugh.
Note: This cover is terrible, not because it’s not pretty (it actually is quite pretty). But because it’s so inaccurate! I don’t understand how romance publishers can’t just get their shit together on this and make attractive covers that represent the insides of their books accurately. They are not in period dress, at all. Ash is very much un-scarred, and even if his scarred side is the one we can’t see, that’s wrong, too, because it’s his left that’s supposed to be injured. They just look like two people making out after wedding in a hotel room. Come on, publishers, you make a shit ton of money on these books. DO BETTER.