I am not a fan of straight up bodice rippers, but witty banter, suffering in silence and smoldering looks are right up my alley. Give me a sassy heroine and an honorable but standoffish hero and I’m ALL IN. Austen vibes? Yes. Sweeping historical epics a la Outlander? Please and thank you. The issue is that I tend to shy away from some romance novels due to swift cover judgement (man in open pirate shirt with disheveled woman leaning back against him in rapturous ecstasy) and wariness about the writing quality therein. Give me all the good stuff but write it well (Deanna Raybourn, Gail Carriger, Sherry Thomas, Diana Gabaldon). I need a little clever snark with my swoon; some historical content with my hanky panky.
This is a popular CBR title that I had been wary about. Several reviews of The Duke and I dating back to 2015 had me intrigued, but I kept putting it on the back burner. Then, the Netflix hype train came rolling into the station and I knew that it was now or never. If I liked the book, I would be happy that I could relive it via the small screen. If not, I could bag it and just carry on with the show. I should also admit that the cutesy illustrated covers were more encouraging than more Fabio-esque covers these books suffer from.
Since this has been reviewed often, I’m not sure that I can add very much to the discourse here, but I can layout out why I enjoyed it and how this series may be the perfect thing for me during a very imperfect time.
For a short but sweet cover of the basics: this is the first title in an eight book series about an aristocratic family in England’s Regency period. The large, loving and tight knit Bridgerton family are led by their widowed mother, Lady Bridgerton, who is busy trying to find suitable marriages for her older children. Eldest daughter Daphne is often overlooked by suitors in favor of the more conventionally beautiful and vapid ladies in her circle. It also doesn’t help her cause to be constantly shadowed by rather tall over bearing older brothers. However, an awkward chance meeting with current rake du jour, The Duke of Hastings, who is trying to avoid marriage, offers a solution to both of their predicaments. A pretend courtship that, for the Duke, wards off the ladies but serves up Daphne as a more interesting catch. Sorry, but I have to…Hilarity ensues!
There are deeper issues at play here though beyond “will they, won’t they.” Abandonment, shame and vengeance are all tied up with the romance bow. In a lot of ways, the novel is about the power of love and family and how haunting a supremely shitty childhood can be.
As a long time Outlander fan, I’m no stranger to thoroughly enjoying a book that is often problematic in terms of consent. While some of that can be skirted around because of the time period, it doesn’t make it any less uncomfortable to read. It can also take a chink or two out of the male protagonist’s armor for me. Interestingly enough, here it is the lady who is the more egregious party in terms of emotional manipulation and consent.
All that being said, I’m glad I read it. I am REALLY enjoying the second book, The Viscount Who Love Me, right now. I truly appreciate these books have possibly given me my reading mojo back after my 2020’s lull. I will no longer hold off reading what so many fellow Cannonballers rave about if it sounds at all appealing to me. Sorry it took the threat of Netflix spoilers to motivate me. Lesson learned. Perhaps this will be my year of shameless romance reading? Bring on the Kleypas and Milan. I’m not fighting it anymore. But who can I talk to about those pesky book covers????