After Dark With the Duke
Grade : A

Julie Anne Long is one of my favorite romance authors, and books like this are exactly why. After Dark with the Duke is a classic Long – she has paired two interesting, disparate characters, added loads of chemistry and just enough conflict to keep things interesting but not outrageous. As another standalone in the Palace of Rogues series, it should be easy to pick up even if you’re new to the author.

Mariana Wylde is a bit of a damsel in distress when she arrives at The Grand Palace On The Thames. A budding opera singer who’s been dogged by scandal since two gentlemen fought a duel over her, Mariana fled her flat when an angry mob formed outside and is in desperate need of a place to stay. Angelique and Delilah (the owners of the Grand Palace), sensing an opportunity to help while also making a name for themselves, offer Mariana a room in exchange for a performance. Despite her fears that people will avoid the event due to the scandal surrounding her, Mariana agrees and quickly settles into life at the Grand Palace, enjoying its charming rules and interesting array of guests.

Well, Mariana enjoys most of the other guests. One of the rules set by the owners is that all guests should gather for meals regularly, which proves trying for Mariana whenever the “Valorous Duke of Valkirk” appears.

James Blackmore, the Duke of Valkirk, was granted his title in recognition of his military service, and is renowned for his upstanding character and wisdom – British schoolboys everywhere study his book Honor as a guide to living a moral life. In other words, James is about as opposite a person to Mariana as you could find in the British Isles. Or so he thinks upon meeting her. Convinced by the scandal sheets that Mariana is a reckless diva who has little care for the men who fought over her, James is openly disdainful of the singer when forced into her company.

Rather than give in to any hurt at his obvious dislike, Mariana engages in a battle of wits with the duke, exchanging thinly veiled barbs each time their paths cross. After all the ways that people have misunderstood or misrepresented her, she’s determined not to take anything lying down, and it’s easy to like her for it. Mariana has a humble background and often doesn’t understand the complex words or foreign languages used in her presence. In this too, she is brave enough to ask for definitions and explanations from friends rather than dissembling. Despite her various disadvantages, Mariana is a courageous woman who keeps fighting for respect and a better life – and once James sees that, he’s a goner for her.

Their dynamic takes an abrupt turn when James takes an insult a little too far one night after dinner. Undaunted by his title, Angelique and Delilah kindly suggest (read: demand) that he apologize to Mariana and offer her lessons in Italian as a gesture of goodwill. Over afternoons spent together, James and Mariana slowly learn about each other. Misconceptions are corrected, and they tumble headlong into love with one another.

While Mariana is easy to like from the start, James is a more interesting case. When first described as the Valorous Duke of Valkirk, he seems almost annoyingly perfect, but the author deftly humanizes him with his quick judgment of Mariana based on gossip. This flaw allows Mariana to spar with him rather than sit in awe, and has the two of them throwing off quite a few sparks. Even once James has apologized and redeemed himself, he proves an interesting foil for Mariana. He may be the general, but she comes off as the more reckless fighter compared to his steady and determined approach to life. (One might almost call it plodding.) Together they strike a lovely balance.

Aside from these two interesting, opposite, yet well-matched main characters, the book is rounded out with a set of entertaining secondary characters who readers of the series will recognize. For example, the amusing Mr. Delacorte is still a long-term resident of the Grand Palace, enjoying the civilizing influence of the proprietresses and their rules. Long infuses this book with her characteristic good humor and light-hearted style, which fans of her work are sure to recognize and enjoy.

Whether you’re new to the series or a long-time fan, I would heartily recommend After Dark with the Duke as a fun opposites-attract romance to curl up with this winter.

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Reviewed by Alexandra Anderson

Grade: A

Book Type: Historical Romance

Sensuality: Warm

Review Date : December 2, 2021

Publication Date: 11/2021

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Alexandra Anderson

College student by day. Book enthusiast around the clock. With any luck I'll eventually be able to afford food AND books. But I've got my priorities straight.
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