So, A Duke, the Lady, and a Baby walk into a bar… (I couldn’t resist opening with a classic bar joke.)
A Duke, the Lady, and A Baby, the first novel in Vanessa Riley’s Rogues and Remarkable Women series of Regency romances, is a one-stop reading experience. It delivers extraordinary storytelling with pleasing amounts of passionate kisses, winsome characters, mystery and intrigue, humor, and coconut bread (yes, a recipe is included).
For the past four years, West Indian “mulatto” heiress Lady Patience Jordan has been unhappily living in England with her aristocratic husband. When he commits suicide, Patience is forced into the Bethlehem Hospital (Bedlam) and her baby boy, Lionel, is claimed by her husband’s cousin, Commander Busick Strathmore, Duke of Repington. After Patience is released from her wrongful confinement, she accepts the aid of Widow’s Grace, a secret society of justice-seeking widows. The group’s leader, Countess Shrewsbury, vows to help Patience to regain custody of Lionel and to settle the unfinished business that will assure the safety of her and her son.
Guided by the Countess, the fiercely determined Patience assumes a false identity and secures a job living and working at her former home as Lionel’s nanny. The territorial nanny-mama reluctantly abides by Busick’s strict rules (i.e. crawling practice) for “little soldier” Lionel. It isn’t long before the couple bonds over their mutual adoration for the baby and develop feelings for each other. Patience admires the handsome wounded soldier’s integrity, and Busick appreciates the beautiful nanny’s refreshing candor. But with suspicion and lies between them, trusting their hearts seems too big a risk for either to take.
I was totally swept away by Riley’s detailed historical descriptions – from military uniform adornments to shady gambling hells (how wicked!). I can say with confidence that I have consumed enough BBC documentaries on the Regency era to recognize that the author meticulously researched period-appropriate dress, language, and customs. I also enjoyed the inclusion of West Indian culture, which effectively highlights the challenges that Patience faced as foreign born “blackamoor” in an interracial marriage.
Patience and Busick are awesome apart, but spectacular together. She is a defiant woman and mother who formerly served as a compliant wife. He is a reformed rogue who serves as an honorable man and father. Both fight for right in their own way. That shared quality coupled with frequent repartée and powerful mutual physical attraction leads the pair to develop a deeply authentic love complete with longing stares and lip locking.
Not only did I adore romance protagonists Patience and Busick, but I also cared about the well-crafted secondary characters. Notable sidekicks include Jemina, former Bedlam inmate and Patience’s amnesiac partner in crime, and Lord Gantry, Busick’s confidante whose wife has mysteriously gone missing. Riley deserves credit for utilizing supporting characters to enrich the narrative instead of to serve an arbitrary purpose.
I have only one criticism to report, which did not detract from my sincere enjoyment of Riley’s solid work. The exclusion of Patience’s incarceration at Bedlam and her subsequent release is both surprising and disappointing. It is the inciting incident of the story, yet this defining moment in Patience’s journey is relegated to brief snippets of dialogue and fleeting recollections. A prologue could possibly have bridged the information gap while providing even more fascinating content.
A Duke, the Lady, and a Baby is a brilliantly crafted Regency romance that is a must-read for #histrom fans. Readers who support women’s resistance and fans of iconic nanny-employer musical romance Sound of Music will appreciate Vanessa Riley’s nods to both. I am all-in on the Rogues and Remarkable Women series and eagerly await book two, which based on the teaser, should prove to be another engrossing read.
(Check out my Behind the Review video blog post on Vanessa Riley’s A Duke, the Lady, and a Baby.)
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