Bringing Down the Duke by Evie Dunmore was a historical romance novel that I first saw on NPR’s Best Books of 2019. I’ve found some fun and different romance novels on this list, and I was happy to try another. And I liked this book. This was one of my favorite romance novels in awhile. It definitely fulfilled all historical romance expectations, but the female characters felt a little more realistic for their time. They weren’t simply women transplanted from the 21st century back in time. It also hit a lot of strong, feminist points without being too obvious or lecturing. “What a gift this was, a room of her own.” (33)
Annabelle Archer is a poor daughter of a country vicar. After her father’s death, she was put under the thumb of her cousin Gilbert where she helped to care for and educate his children. With some hard work and quick thinking Annabelle procured herself a place in the first women’s class at Oxford. Gilbert begrudgingly gives his permission because he believes her education might help his kids in the long run.
Annabelle has earned a scholarship to help fund her education, but in return for the money, she must support the suffragist movement and help to get the 1879 Married Women’s Property Act passed. Although Annabelle knows and feels the disadvantages of her sex clearly, she is not particularly excited about going out in public and proclaiming more equal rights for women. With it comes the immediate disapproval of many around her, the possibility of scandal, the risk of getting kicked out of Oxford, or her cousin Gilbert finding out and rescinding his permission. However, after a run-in with Duke Sebastian Montgomery, she is assigned as the most likely suffragist to change his opinion.
Sebastian is a very powerful man in England and one of the queen’s closest advisors. After his alcoholic father lost many of their estates and assets, he is on a driven mission to get them back and bring them back to prosperity. He has no patience for his younger brother who seems to be following in their father’s footsteps. But Annabelle immediately grabs his attention. And when Annabelle finagles an invitation for her and her friends to one of his house parties, they are able to get to know each other.
Annabelle struggles with her studies, her work with the suffragists, and earning enough money to survive. Sebastian has to decide if he wants to get past his single-minded goals and have real relationships with Annabelle and his brother. I generally liked the relationship between the two leads. The Duke manages to balance the line between his autocratic character and not being too domineering. The two have a good relationship, and the book had me feeling real emotions.
I almost thought this book went on too long, but then I got into it all over again. I have Dunmore’s second book, A Rogue of One’s Own (2020) on hold at the library.
“She would have to cause a scene. She would have to dig in her heels and it would cause a scene, but she couldn’t end up alone with this randy giant.” (147)
“It felt too good to be seen. His kisses had lifted a loneliness off her she hadn’t even known she carried.” (178)
“Of course, facts hardly convinced people whose emotions wanted it to be otherwise.” (188)
You can find all of my reviews on my blog.