A Duchess a Day
A Duchess a Day kicks off Charis Michaels’ new series, Awakened by a Kiss, nicely. It’s a lighthearted regency romance based loosely on Snow White and the Seven Dwarves that delivers admirable hero/heroines, a nicely paced plot, a sensual romance, and a happy ending. There are some missteps along the way, but overall this is a fun, frothy, sweet romance.
Lady Helena Lark has been engaged to the Duke of Lusk for five years. She is desperate to avoid this marriage as the Duke (or more appropriately, the Duke’s uncle Titus) simply wants her land to use as a transportation route for his mining operation. The plans would destroy a forest, an apple orchard, and a cottage that Lady Helena adores and protects. So every time the wedding approaches, Helena simply runs away. Uncle Titus is done waiting and has brought Helena and her family to London to live with him and the Duke until the wedding. This time Uncle Titus is taking no chances and has hired a keeper for Helena.
Declan Shaw, soldier turned mercenary, is languishing in Newgate, falsely accused of murder. Uncle Titus has decided that Declan, also known as “the Huntsman”, would be the perfect guard for Helena. He conspires to get Declan released from prison, but only if Declan agrees to guard Helena and make sure she gets to the altar. If he doesn’t succeed, he will return to prison. A desperate Declan agrees to the bargain and is brought into the Duke’s household as Lady Helena’s private groom.
There is an immediate attraction between Declan and Helena but Declan has a hard time understanding why Helena wants to escape her fate so desperately – until he meets the Duke who turns out to be a lily-livered lout. Slowly, Declan begins to feel sympathy towards Helena and her plight, and she convinces him to aid her. She has a plan – she will find other women in London to introduce to the Duke, women who are desperate to be a duchess, women who will awaken the loser Duke with a feeling of passion so strong he will jilt Helena. And she has a plan to save Declan from a return to prison and provide him with the security he seeks for his father and sisters. So she and Declan make a list of potential candidates and set off to meet a “duchess a day”.
Ms. Michaels creates an unusual heroine in Helena. She’s definitely feisty and driven but she has enormous sympathy for Declan’s plight and works hard to make sure he is not sacrificed to her goals. I expected her to be selfish and grating, but she is simply faithful to herself while being considerate to and respectful of others. She’s also playful and light-hearted in spite of her circumstances. Declan finds it hard to resist her pull and sooner than he can imagine, he is following along with her plans and falling in love. Declan is a man torn between his obligations and love for his family, and his budding feelings for Helena. I appreciated how honest they were with each other early on in the story – there is no big misunderstanding here, just the two of them working to free Helena from a dark future. I wasn’t a fan of the rush to the physical here and would have preferred more tension to build before they started kissing, but their attraction is obvious and solidly written.
Uncle Titus and Helena’s family are worthy antagonists, but the Duke of Lusk is underdeveloped as a character. He perks up at the end, but his character trajectory is all over the place. I’m wondering if he is being set up as the hero in the next novel. Right now, he comes across as a bit of a buffoon so hopefully not! And sticklers for historical accuracy will definitely find problems here, such as – is a burly, attractive groom really the correct chaperone for a single lady and the only one she needs? And why isn’t anyone keeping a closer watch on Lady Helena? Also, the ending is a little too lucky for Helena and Declan. I did appreciate how cleverly Ms. Michaels weaves elements from Snow White and the Seven Dwarves into the story – the apples, the huntsman, the potential duchesses nicknamed after the dwarves. It will not appeal to readers looking for a traditional regency read, but it will tickle those who can appreciate a lighter feel in their books.
Even with these issues, A Duchess a Day is a charming, light read that will entertain readers who enjoy a little whimsy with their romance.