A Most Suitable Duchess
What do you do when somebody else plays with your life? You can rail at fate, or whine and moan, or seek revenge. Or you can be a grownup about it and try to make the best of things. That’s precisely what the characters do in A Most Suitable Duchess, which I found to be a fairly enjoyable read.
Country squire Marcus Heywood has come into the title of Duke of Torringford, unexpectedly and quite unprepared. What really upsets him, though, is the discovery that he will forfeit the bulk of the estate if he doesn’t have a wife by his thirtieth birthday, which is only a month away. Over one glass too many with his brother, he jokes that maybe he should just put an ad in the papers: Wanted – One Wife. For a laugh, they draw up a list of qualifications; Marcus promptly forgets about it and goes out of town for a few days. But his brother, who does have to place an ad for a new kennel master, sends the wrong ad to the newspaper. Upon his return, Marcus is outraged to find out that he’s received several replies to “his” ad.
One of them is an offer from a Miss Penelope Hastings, but she didn’t write it. Penelope’s a city girl, a minor patroness of the arts, with no prospective husband in sight. When she gets a message from the Duke of Torringford’s solicitor, she thinks it’s about a contribution to the astronomical society’s fundraiser, and is stunned to discover that someone has written to him posing as her. Of course she turns him down flat, in civil but firm tones, and considers that the end of the matter. But then her overbearing brother tells her that he wants to get married and needs her out of the house. He informs Penelope that her choices are to find a husband or retire to a small cottage she’s inherited, out in the middle of nowhere. Caught between a rock and a hard place, she has to make a choice.
This is a conventional marriage-of-convenience plot with very few surprises. What makes the book stand out from the pack are Marcus and Penelope. Marcus is a decent man caught in a difficult situation over which he has relatively little control, and who tries to make the best of things as they are, not as he wishes they could be. And he’s not just another bored, aimless nobleman either; he has an occupation that means a lot to him, for both the money and the satisfaction it earns him, and he’s not about to give it up just because he’s been elevated to the peerage. As for Penelope, she also gains satisfaction from her activities, and worries about walking away from them. Her new life is going to have to offer her something in return, and she’s not sure whether it will. That doubt added a certain depth to her that I appreciated.
There’s a by-the-numbers subplot concerning someone from Penelope’s past. The character and the threat he poses are nothing new, and I couldn’t believe that Penelope didn’t see through this guy the moment he showed up on the doorstep. Yet the way Marcus and Penelope deal with him, and each other, is somewhat refreshing – no chance here for a Big Misunderstanding. It was frustrating to me, though, that in spite of their relatively open communication, it took them so long to admit they loved each other. You’re not going to find Heyeresque sparkling dialogue in this book, but what you will find is an nice story of two decent people who, in the course of straightening out a mess created by others, find the way to love with each other.