And that excitement was well placed, as I very much enjoyed this outing. While it didn’t quite reach the heights of Boyfriend Material for me, I felt Hall did a much better job with the tone of historical romance than he had in romp in Something Fabulous, even if the pacing bothered me at times. I found it a bit repetitive and then interspersed with time jumps that left the reader without some of the opportunities to just be with the characters. The good news is that I wanted to be with these characters enough that I was bothered not to get to see more quiet moments.
Hall’s stated goal in writing A Lady for a Duke is that Viola being transgender was not the main source of conflict of the book, and I think he managed that well. So well in fact that I don’t want to dwell on the chapter in which Gracewood reacts poorly to discovering whom he knew Viola as because the immediate chapter after it launches into one of the best long form grovels I’ve read in a Romance in a long time. The real conflicts for the characters (nearly all) are really about gender roles and gendered expectations. Viola refuses Gracewood’s advances several times over because she is focused on the ways she feels she cannot live up to society’s (and her own) expectations about what a lady needs to do or be to be for a Duke. Gracewood has his own hang-ups about what kind of man he is after the war, dealing with physical and mental impairments. Gracewood’s sister Miranda is a young woman unconvinced that they fully know who or what they want, just knowing they want the love of their family, and Viola’s sister-in-law Louise who fulfills what the expectations are of a woman of her class, all while also being exactly whom she wants to be, screw what anyone else has to say about it.
I find there to be great value in exploring ideas through characters who don’t have the language we would use to characterize what is going on with them. I find it can help readers work through ideas on their own, to find themselves on the page, to find their own interpretation. I’m a history person, I should want my historical fiction historically accurate (and I often do, please see my enjoyment of the things Loretta Chase writes) and listen, I know Hall is going to get pushback at this being inaccurate due to the undercurrent of acceptance that is the backbone of the emotional beats of this book, but fuck that noise. Why are we in the habit of ignoring the possibilities and realities of independent, individual reactions? Why do we assume the laws at a national level reflect the entirety of a populace when it so clearly doesn’t in our own times? If you have problems with Hall’s accuracy, I invite you to look closer at the scholarship, because he’s not creating a baseless fantasy world in this story, certainly not more than any romance featuring a Duke of which there were less than 30 at the time.
Final thoughts: Hall teases the possibility of other stories in this universe including the other ladies whom he borrowed names from Shakespeare heroines for (yes please Miranda!) but also Amberglass and I have no desire at all to read that character have a redemption.
I received an ARC of this book from the publisher via NetGalley. It has not affected the contents of the review.