Desert Isle Keeper
A Duke to Remember
AAR staffers Kristen Donnelly and E.B. Wittmann join forces to chat about Kelly Bowen’s latest book, A Duke to Remember.
Elise deVries has a unique job for a lady in Regency England. An actress by night, and an investigator by day, Elise works for a secretive and highly-sought-after agency that solves problems for the ton before they become scandals. And they’re very good. Currently, there’s a particularly urgent situation regarding a missing heir and a duchess erroneously committed to Bedlam. Enter Noah Ellery, our hero, who has been avoiding London like the plague for years. When Elise tracks him down and convinces him he is the solution to her client’s problem, he begins to realize she may also be the solution to his; namely, estrangement from his family and a fear of confronting his past. A Duke to Remember is a delightful tale of identity, personal worth, and, of course, living happily ever after.
Kristen Donnelly: I’m excited to chat about A Duke to Remember, which I deeply enjoyed. I’ve been following this Season for Scandal series since Ms. Bowen published the first instalment and publicized it by saying that it was Scandal in Regency England. I was delighted by Duke of My Heart and also by A Duke To Remember, but I’m really drawn to non-conventional heroines in historical fiction. Chegarre & Associates is a female-owned and operated organisation, and I loved reading about the process of how they go about the actual workings of that business.
But to the book at hand, what did you think of it overall?
E.B. Wittmann: I also very much enjoyed it. To be honest, when I started it, I was having trouble calling to mind the series. But shortly after I started reading and realized Elise was an investigator at Chegarre & Associates, I easily remembered Duke of My Heart! I loved it for many of the same reasons you did – Ivory Moore (the agency owner and subject of the first book) is such a unique and strong female heroine. It’s a refreshing and unique take on a relationship between two very strong minded characters.
I think Ms. Bowen was wise to follow up Duke of My Heart with Elise’s story. She’s another complex, strong and independent woman who happens to fall in love while doing her job. The love story – which is excellent – only enhances all of the qualities I liked about her. Much like Ms. Moore, Elise’s greatest strength is her mental toughness. I’m not sure I totally bought into her backstory (as a tracker) – but it works in the context of the story, and I was willing to go along with it. It’s yet another way Ms. Bowen flips gender roles and stereotypes in this series.
On that note, I thought it was interesting that despite the fact Elise is sent to find and bring Noah to London (to rescue him from his past?), when they meet, he’s just rescued her from nearly drowning in a rushing river. Much like the first book, Ms. Bowen seems to delight in muddling who is rescuing whom. The irony only struck me after I’d finished – did you notice or find that interesting as well?
KND: Huh, I never thought of that in those terms, but you are so right! Elise needs to be shocked out of her life patterns as much as Noah does. I think I’m hesitant to use “rescued” for either one of them, though, because they really were quite content and fully-rounded people before they met. Here are two fully-realized and happy adults who find someone to go through life with, rather than someone to complete an empty life. I suppose that’s what makes a good hero/heroine pairing in a novel; both need things from the other person and the power dynamic is not unbalanced. This is so tricky in historicals, I think, and so to watch Ms. Bowen deal with it so deftly is amazing.
Speaking of contrasting ironies, however, did you notice how the plot still deals with how limited female agency is during that period? The Duchess was confined to Bedlam on the word of one man and Elise had to dress up like a man in order to even see her! Despite Chegarre & Associates being so matriarchal, I appreciated how Ms. Bowen didn’t ignore historical convention. If the plot hadn’t dealt with how little authoritative power women had in that era, I would have been skeptical of the rest of the plot.
Why didn’t you buy the tracker backstory? I totally did and thought it really fit, so I’m curious why it didn’t work for you.
EBW: I’m not sure it was that I didn’t buy her tracker backstory – it’s perhaps that job in combination with everything about Elise’s history is a bit too perfect. She’s an amazing tracker, she’s an amazing actress, she’s an amazing investigator – I don’t need my heroines to be perfect or ‘amazing.’ So let me revise: I thought it was fascinating that Elise is so talented and capable with a rifle and that she was a tracker in Canada before emigrating – but I’m not sure I thought it was necessary for her to be best at that, too. When she disappears in the forest and Noah can’t hear or spot her – and then she nails the rat with her rifle at the fair and she’s so beautiful and… it just seemed as though Ms. Bowen was overselling a heroine I already liked.
We’ve spent so much time discussing our heroine – perhaps we should talk about Noah for a bit? Let me just preface by saying I fell for him just as hard and quickly as Elise did. I thought his backstory – the stutter and betrayal by his parents because of it, really humanized him. I also very much enjoyed his PoV about Elise and his willingness to let her see his attraction despite his wariness about her and strangers in general.
KND: That’s a really good point about Elise. A little shine off her diamond, so to speak, probably would have been nice.
And yes, let’s talk about Noah! I loved that his reaction to that rejection you mention was to simply pick himself up and get on with life. He still chose to love and experience the world around him, he just removed himself from the pieces of life that hurt him. I was so impressed by that. He’s a beta hero and those are few and far between these days in Romancelandia, so I’m always happy to see them.
And his PoV about Elise is great, but so are his interactions with the villagers and his thoughts about his family. This book would have suffered greatly if we only got Elise’s perspective, so I’m glad Bowen lets us inside Noah’s head.
Overall, I’d absolutely recommend this book, and this series, to anyone who likes Regency romances, or anyone who likes books with beta heroes or unconventional heroines. What about you?
EBW: Yes, I would definitely recommend A Duke to Remember. I enjoyed everything about it. A strong heroine, a sensitive, vulnerable but deeply masculine hero and evil cousin whose reprehensible actions (a popular Regency trope) bring them together – what more could I ask for?
And speaking of evil cousins – we never talked about Francis! You mentioned earlier the man who had Miriam Ellery, Duchess of Ashland, committed to Bedlam – but my response veered away from topic (big surprise!). I’m similarly astonished (and horrified) by the ease in which women at this time could find themselves institutionalized against their will – and I thought the opening sequence with Elise (in disguise) visiting Miriam, while Francis arrogantly watches, was a striking start to the novel.
KND: I totally agree about it being striking. In fact, it took me a few minutes to orient myself to the narrative because it felt so out of sorts. I’m used to Regencies opening in country house parties, not Bedlam!
EBW: Francis is a great villain – vain, proud and delusional about his ‘right’ to the Dukedom of Ashland. He’s so easy to hate; his ruthlessness and desperation to get his hands on the estate and its wealth and his willingness to kill anyone in his path, is an excellent contrast to Noah’s goodness. After all, it’s his relentless pursuit of the dukedom and scheming that pave the way for Noah’s return to London. Francis’ machinations are ultimately his downfall and the impetus Noah needs to reclaim his birthright and reconcile with his family.
KND: I cannot believe we skipped over Francis – there is just too much to talk about in this book. He’s certainly an excellent foil for Noah. He’s well-realized enough as a character that he doesn’t feel like a cartoon, but we’re also never given any reason to feel bad for him. These are his choices, whether he acknowledges that or not, and his desperation reeks of “affluenza”, like that awful teenager in the news a few years back.
EMB: I loved how Ms. Bowen revisited characters from Duke of My Heart – the Duke of Alderidge plays a brilliant supporting role here, Alexander Lavoie is as enigmatic and fascinating as ever (I can’t wait for his story!), and I was moved when the secret history between Noah and the King was revealed.
Do you think Lavoie is next?! Do you hope we get King’s story in a full length novel too?
KND: Hm, I’m not sure I’m as excited for Lavoie as you are, but I’m open to being surprised. I guess I just haven’t connected as strongly with him yet. But King? Now there is a story I would pre-order in a heartbeat. But let’s be fully honest here, I’m one-click pre-ordering anything Ms. Bowen rights from here on out.
I’m giving this a straight A grade. What about you?
EBW: It’s a DIK for me, too. A-