I’d seen The Duchess Deal (2017) by Tessa Dare on some Cannonball reviews, and it looked interesting. I’d learned that Dare changed details about her love interest after Trump’s election because her alpha hero was rubbing her the wrong way. I appreciated the small nods to progressive feminist ideals throughout the book, the often funny banter between the leads, and the way she played with typical romantic tropes with her story. I also liked how the Duke and Emma slowly began to trust each other, but the story as a whole never quite worked for me.
Emma Gladstone was only sixteen when her vicar father kicked her out of her home for wearing a red dress that made her look like a harlot (according to her horrible father) and sleeping with the local lad whom she thought she loved. Emma made it to London and survived by becoming a seamstress.
The Duke of Ashbury has recently returned from war where he suffered terrible injuries that burned half his face and torso. He cannot stand how he looks, and with his betrothed’s recent abandonment, he is alone. But he has many important responsibilities as a Duke, including siring an heir to continue the family line. When Emma Gladstone arrives at his London home in his ex-betrothed’s wedding dress, demanding payment, he decides she would be as good as anyone.
The Duke is willing to simply use Emma only for the procreation of children, but Emma pushes for more, wanting human interaction. The two had been immediately attracted to each other, but they slowly began to like and trust the other the more time they spent together.
I was willing to simply accept that a duke would marry a seamstress without any real repercussion, but I just could not buy into the rest of the book. It felt like Dare did not quite have the time to lay all the necessary groundwork–both for the motivations of the main characters as well as making the secondary characters feel real. I had a hard time buying that the Duke felt so poorly about himself when he was such an arrogant man otherwise. If his entire face had been burned, it would have made more sense, but then he might have been too broken for a romantic hero. Thus, many of the scenes related to the Duke’s injury, his actions towards Emma regarding his injury, and his ex-betrothed didn’t make sense to me.
On the other hand, I liked the feminist bits throughout The Duchess Deal. Emma’s father justified his heartless behavior towards his daughter, saying, “She was warned. Given every explanation. Nevertheless, she persisted in her sinful behavior, and she would not repent of it.” (200) It made me smile. I also thought it was funny that the Duke just assumed that Emma was a virgin, but was not in the least bothered when he found out she wasn’t. In fact, the first time Emma and the Duke try to have sex was also pretty amusing and went against type. It was hard to believe that the Duke could be so autocratic and unfeeling and then change completely as soon as he got into bed with Emma, but he would have been a horrible character if he didn’t, so I guess that was necessary.
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