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Books Read in 2018: ‘The Duchess Deal’ by Tessa Dare (3.5 stars) | #amreading #bookreview

Monday, February 19, 2018

The Duchess Deal (Girl Meets Duke #1)
by Tessa Dare
Genre: Historical Romance (Regency)
My rating: 3.5 stars

Book Summary:
Since his return from war, the Duke of Ashbury’s to-do list has been short and anything but sweet: brooding, glowering, menacing London ne’er-do-wells by night. Now there’s a new item on the list. He needs an heir—which means he needs a wife. When Emma Gladstone, a vicar’s daughter turned seamstress, appears in his library wearing a wedding gown, he decides on the spot that she’ll do.

His terms are simple:
– They will be husband and wife by night only.
– No lights, no kissing.
– No questions about his battle scars.
– Last, and most importantly . . . once she’s pregnant with his heir, they need never share a bed again.

But Emma is no pushover. She has a few rules of her own:
– They will have dinner together every evening.
– With conversation.
– And unlimited teasing.
– Last, and most importantly . . . once she’s seen the man beneath the scars, he can’t stop her from falling in love.

My GR Status Update(s):

01/02. . .Finished Reading

  • January 30, 2018 – Started Reading
  • February 7, 2018 – 53.0% “”She was warned. Given every explanation. Nevertheless, she persisted…” Somehow, seeing a quote from the 21st Century in a book set 200 years ago doesn’t bother me.”
  • February 9, 2018 – 100% – “Wait . . . what happened to Davina?”
  • February 9, 2018 – Finished Reading

My Review:
3.5 stars

This was my second Tessa Dare book. I’d read A Night to Surrender a few years back because I’d been told that I’d really like her books since I loved Julia Quinn’s historical romances. I was underwhelmed.

And while I didn’t go into reading The Duchess Deal with expectations as high as they were for Surrender, I expected for there to at least be some relationship building and attention to historical accuracy. But both were just given the most cursory drive-by in favor of snarky (“witty”) dialogue and narrative that was trying far too hard to be clever without actually being so. (The modern-day quote I mentioned in my status updates came in what, to me, was one of the only truly laugh-out-loud scenes of the novel, and it actually fit with what was going on in that scene; plus, by that point, I’d given up on all hope for non-anachronistic dialogue.)

Why did I pick up this book after being so underwhelmed by the first book of hers I read? Because I’m a sucker for a marriage of convenience plot in romance. The blurb of this one totally sucked me in; so when it came available at the library, I went for it.

It didn’t take me too long to read (considering I had two other books going at the same time), so it’s not like it was one of those books that was a chore to pick up every night at bedtime. But it also wasn’t one of those books that I couldn’t put down in the middle of a chapter or that kept me up until the wee hours because I just had to know what happened next.

The biggest conflicts in this book all center around self-image/self-esteem and communication problems. The hero, Ash’s, biggest problem wasn’t the fact he was scarred from an explosion at war (more on this in a moment), but that he was a jerk before that happened and the scars just gave him an excuse to be an even bigger AlphaHole to everyone around him. This book is set a few years after the Napoleonic War ended at Waterloo; but the way this was written, it seemed as if there were no other men walking around England with visible battle scars or disfigurements. His former fiancee, whose dress Emma wears to his house to demand payment in the beginning of the book, is a caricature of the typical ex-fiancee in a scarred-hero trope—she doesn’t want to be with him anymore because he’s scarred and she’s beautiful, but then she turns jealous and catty toward the heroine because he now wants the heroine and not the ex. (And if he’s a duke and the ex is also an aristocrat, why would they not have paid the seamstress’s bill after two letters asking for payment? Also, Emma didn’t own the shop where she worked—she just worked there. Why wouldn’t the owner of the shop be the one demanding payment rather than Emma? But I digress.)

Regarding a Duke at War
Ash was an only child—we know this because until/unless he has children of his own, the current heir to his dukedom is a distant cousin (whom he doesn’t like, so that’s why he’s looking for a “broodmare” to give him a son—the book’s term, not mine)—and his father died and passed on the title of duke when Ash was young (before he was a teenager).

First of all, let’s get over the notion that there are dozens, scores, hundreds of non-royal dukes (i.e., not in the direct like of inheritance for the throne/part of the royal family) running around England at any given time in history, but especially during the English Regency period (technically 1811–1820, but for historical romance it’s 1800–1820s). According to this article, there were only 28 non-royal dukedoms in Great Britain in 1818 (and only 11 in England), around the time this book takes place. Dukes were rare and part of the peerage (ruling class) in England and, therefore, would not have been allowed to actively put their lives at risk. After all, the plot of this novel hinges on how very important it is that he have an heir, just to put a full-stop to the point.

But . . . but . . . but . . . what about the Duke of Wellington? He not only fought, he was one of the leading commanders of the British Army at Waterloo!

Arthur Wellesley was the fourth-born (third surviving) son of an Irish earl. As a non-inheriting son, he was expected to have a career—sons below the second (the “spare”) were destined to go into the church, the army, or the navy in the late 18th century. Wellesley enlisted in the British Army as a young man, long before he held any titles himself. It was many years later that he was, first, elevated to Viscount in 1809 (due to his battlefield victory at Talavera in the Peninsular Campaign), then to the rank of Earl of Wellington in 2012 after liberating Madrid, and finally was made 1st Duke of Wellington in 1813 after Napoleon’s abdication. And Wellington himself was not in the vanguard of the troops when they went into battle; rather, he was more likely to be found at the Army’s headquarters, making the plans and decisions.


Anyway . . .

Ash went off to war, ordinance blew up in his face, and now the left side of his face/body is covered in burn scars. His fiancee not only left him, but vomited in reaction to seeing just the scars on his face when she declared she couldn’t sleep with that for the rest of her life. Frankly, she dodged a bullet, because the exterior package wasn’t nearly as bad as the interior with this “hero.”

And the heroine . . . well, she doesn’t have much personality, other than loving to sew dresses from curtains and having daddy and ex-boyfriend issues. As a seamstress, she has befriended a client named Davina who, Emma discovers, is in a delicate way, which is bad, given Davina is not married. The idea that she could help Davina by accepting Ash’s outlandish marriage proposal—a plan which would also entail Emma’s immediately getting pregnant herself and being sent out to live at the duke’s country house—is built up as one of the driving motivations to get the marriage-of-convenience plot rolling. Yet when it comes down to it—instead of spoilers, I’ll just leave that thread with my final status update: Wait . . . what happened to Davina?

Was the book horrible? No. (That’s why I reserve one-star ratings for DNF/did not finish, because I’m not at all shy about quitting books I don’t enjoy.)

Will I be rushing out to try another Tessa Dare book? Not any time soon.

My rating matrix:
5 STARS = one of the best I’ve ever read
4 STARS = a great read, highly recommended
3 STARS = it was okay
2 STARS = I didn’t enjoy it all that much, not recommended
1 STAR = DNF (did not finish)

View all my reviews on Goodreads

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