The Duchess Deal
I’ve been looking for a good place to jump into Tessa Dare’s books, but I was reluctant to start in the middle of an already established series. So The Duchess Deal, the first book in her new Girl Meets Duke series, was just what I needed to give her work a try, and I’m really glad I did.
George, the Duke of Ashbury (called Ash by those close to him) is in need of an heir. This means he’s going to have to find himself a wife, but he’s reluctant to do so given he is so badly disfigured as a result of the injuries he sustained while fighting in the Napoleonic Wars. He was once engaged to a beautiful heiress, but Ash’s scars proved too much for her and she broke their betrothal. Ever since, Ash has been somewhat of a recluse, leaving his home mostly at night to wander the streets of Mayfair alone in the dark, engaging in countless brawls in an attempt to rid himself of at least a little bit of the rage that boils just beneath the surface. He’s not willing to change his life at all, not even for a wife, so whomever he marries is going to have to accept that. Surely becoming the Duchess of Ashbury will be enough reward for any young lady.
Emma Gladstone has been working in London as a seamstress for the past six years, ever since she was found in a compromising position and thrown out of her father’s house. She’d like to open a dress shop of her own one day, but that takes money she simply doesn’t have. When the Duke of Ashbury’s fiancée commissions her to design her wedding dress, Emma hopes this will give her the financial boost she needs to make her business a reality rather than just a dream. But the engagement is broken and no one comes to claim the dress Emma worked so hard to create. So she decides to approach the duke in hopes of recouping her monetary losses.
When Miss Gladstone shows up in his study wearing a bridal gown, Ash is struck by an idea. This young woman, so obviously down on her luck, would make him the perfect wife. She’s not in a position to make demands, she’s pretty enough, and, most importantly, she came to him, making a society courtship completely unnecessary. He proposes to her, telling her he’ll make her his Duchess, a position that can afford her luxuries she’s only dreamed about. Of course, there are restrictions. This will not be a love match. They will live together until Emma gives him an heir, after which point she can retire to a country estate he’ll turn over to her.
Emma is shocked, but she’s no fool. Although she hardly knows Ash, she agrees to his proposal and is swept up in a life unlike anything she’s ever imagined. Being Ash’s duchess will entitle her to a great many things that would have been totally out of the question for a poor London seamstress. She might even be able to help a friend of hers, a young noblewoman who has found herself pregnant outside of wedlock.
From the start, Emma is intrigued by Ash, even though he does everything in his power to keep her at arm’s length. Slowly, the two of them begin to build a friendship of sorts, but both are leery of getting overly attached. Neither wants to be hurt, and they both know that letting someone get close usually leads to pain. Can they let go of the past in time to claim their HEA?
Ash’s servants are desperate for their employer to fall in love with his pretty, vivacious young wife; he’s been so very bitter and reserved since his return from the war, and they want more for him. They’re definitely not the extremely proper servants I’ve read about in other regency romances, something that didn’t altogether work for me. I struggled to fully buy into a man as strict as Ash allowing his staff to run roughshod over him the way they sometimes do here. Still, the relationships between master and servants provide more than a few moments of hilarity that made suspending belief totally worth it.
Ash is sometimes a difficult hero to really like and his self-loathing, though understandable, gets tiresome pretty quickly. I wanted to see him put his demons to rest and fully embrace the love Emma was so willing to offer him. There’s also a subplot involving his masquerading as a masked man called The Monster of Mayfair that I found a little foolish. I can’t say too much about it without spoilers, but I wish it had been laid to rest a little sooner than it actually was.
When Ash and Emma finally give into their feelings for one another, it’s truly a beautiful thing. It took longer than I would have liked, but once it happened, it was so worth it. They make a wonderful couple, each complimenting the other’s strengths and weaknesses. Although Ash is on the high-handed side, Emma is more than capable of holding her own with him, something I was grateful for. I have a hard time with heroines who allow the men in their lives to dictate their every word, thought, and action, so I was relieved to see Emma’s spunk.
Some readers might have a difficult time with Ash’s initial proposal to Emma. It comes completely out of the blue, and it does require you to just go with things that don’t make a great deal of sense at first. Still, if you hang in there, I’m pretty sure you’ll fall in love with the Duke and his new Duchess just as I did.
Despite a few flaws, I found The Duchess Deal to be an enjoyable and light-hearted read. Ms. Dare has crafted some great supporting characters who I hope to learn more about in future books. While I wasn’t completely wowed by my first foray into her writing, I have plans to check out more of her work in the not-too-distant future.
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I'm Shannon from Michigan. I've been an avid reader all my life. I adore romance, psychological fiction, science fiction, fantasy, and the occasional memoir. I share my home with my life partner, two dogs, and a very feisty feline.
|Review Date:||August 17, 2017|
|Book Type:||Historical Romance|
|Review Tags:||Girl Meets Duke series | Marriage of convenience | slow burn|
Is that His at Night – Sherry Thomas? I loved The Duke of Shadows too and also Not Quite a Husband
AWTBW has got to be one of the best HR out there.
Agreed. And I think Ms. Dare still hasn’t topped it.
I love it. But. Not THAT much. My favorite of Dare’s is still her first. As for the best HR out there? Hmmmmm…. I think I’d go with His At Night or Flowers from the Storm or The Duke of Shadows over AWTBW.
Oh, absolutely, I wouldn’t rate AWTBW over any of those!
Not sure where or what I read that this was a “winner” and that the author was so wonderful. I agree with Usha. The book was a failure for me, C-/D+ at best and I won’t be returning to Ms Dare.
I’m not a fan of Dare, but I thought The Duchess Deal was hilarious and I enjoyed it immensely. I was then fooled into reading the next book which reminded me with a smack why I don’t care for Tessa Dare.
This book made me laugh out loud, which was inconvenient, to say the least. My husband was sound asleep next to me in bed. I actually really enjoyed it. I found a few things to be tinged a bit contemporary, but I had no problem shrugging them off as a way to make it understandable to someone less “Historically Novel” informed. Funny. In reading other’s comments, some of what they wrote is some of what I enjoyed. I also did not feel his proposal to be so out of the blue. It is not as if we were 7 chapters in with no mention of needing a wife and heir. It was while he was reviewing his needs, right in the first pages, “I need a wife”, and a girl who fits the bill, who does not flinch ….too much, at his looks, who is clearly in need of stability, drops into his lap.
I already recommended it to a friend, half way through the book.
I was also sorely disappointed by the book, I couldn’t even finish it. And I loved some of Tessa Dare’s past novels. This one feels forced, The plot is almost non-existant – it’s just a sequence of episodes interspersed by sex scenes and interior ravings of the characters telling themselves how ugly and unlovable they are/how afraid they are of falling in love, rewind and repeat. The secondary characters are cardboard, especially Emmas new friends (and apparently future heroines). The secondary plot as Monster of Mayfair was ludicrous. It’s one thing to ignore historical inaccuracies, but the contemporary feeling here is almost aggressive, it really jumped in my face and prevented me from suspending my disbelief. .
I have tried to read it twice to no avail. And I love many of her works.
Caz your reviews have led me to many a good books. I believe the premise of this book was weak to begin with and then she added all the other stuff (humour, monster of mayfair, the name choice……..) made it all ridiculous for me. I was unable to finish the book and that made me very sad. My historical romance list of authors is getting shorter and shorter.
I do agree the premise was weak, but I don’t go into a Tessa Dare book expecting realism. I admit that I did find the nickname thing funny and that the humour in the book worked for me, BUT, as I said above, I listened to the audio which had a fabulous narrator, and if you’re someone who is into audiobooks, you’ll know what a huge different the choice of narrator can make to a listener’s experience. Perhaps it would have come off differently had I read rather than listened.
Hear, hear, Usha! I just finished this and I agree. TDD struck me as a faux-historical romance (loosely the Regency period, I believe, based only on the fact that the hero was injured in “the war”), with a heroine of 21st century sensibilities and a duke who is not very duke-like. The story events and characters are pretty superficially developed and sketchily told, such as the plotline of the Monster of Mayfair. Now, if that’s what you’re looking for–a romance that is upbeat, not terribly angsty, and not deep–this may be just the one for you. For me, Tessa Dare’s witty banter between the H/h, something she is very good at, could not save this book from coming across to me as “phoned in.” I’d give it a C if I had to rate it.
Also, as frequently happens in romance novels where the hero is disfigured (see my original post above), the hero here is burned on exactly 1/2 of his face/body, while the other side is of course just fine and quite handsome. I cannot figure out how the duke’s appearance actually scares everyone–literally, they run away from him, his disfigurement is so monstrous!–but the heroine barely seems to notice it most of the time. Really?
For some reason, every time a new Tessa Dare or Eloisa James comes out, I torture myself by rushing to read it, hoping to recapture the magic of “A Week to Be Wicked” and “When Beauty Tamed the Beast.” And I’m always disappointed.
I liked it a bit more than you, although I listened to the audio which has a really great narrator, and I suspect that may have elevated things somewhat. I’m generally picky when it comes to accuracy in historicals, but there are a bunch of authors – Tessa Dare and Maya Rodale among them – where I go in knowing that I’m going to get fluff and 21st century sensibilities. Those authors handle that sort of thing better than most, but yes, it’s definitely a case of having to make allowances.
A very generous review. For some reason I found the book to be all fluff and contemporary in disguise of a historical.
This reminds me a bit of “Sugarplum Surprises” by Elisabeth Fairchild, a lovely book about a young woman who runs a dress shop. She faces ruin when a duke breaks off his engagement and she is left with an unpaid-for trousseau. Both characters are lovely, their actions feel appropriate to the time and place (Bath), and the book occupies a permanent place on my keeper shelf. Fairchild is a master at presenting longing, and it’s such a warm feeling when that longing is fulfilled.
I’ve also liked some of Tessa Dare’s books (as mentioned above, “A Week To Be Wicked” is a treat), but I’m now somewhat turned off by the proliferation of dukes. Didn’t bother me when I read the Fairchild because there was a mix of heroes back then, but I’m a bit bored now that you can’t pick up a romance without “duke” in the title. However, if I let that stop me, I’d probably not read another historical romance, so I may try this one.
Is the Monster of Mayfair anything like the Ghost of St. Giles in the books by Elizabeth Hoyt? That was the first thing that jumped into my mind when I read that description. I’ve read a lot of Ms Dare’s books and enjoyed them, so I’ll likely pick this up if I see it at the library.
I am so hoping not. I grew tired of the Ghost after four books.
I don’t get that vibe at all – Monster of Mayfair is much more tongue-in-cheek and caper-y than the Ghost. Foolish is a great word for it – that subplot was my least favorite part of this book.
I definitely second stl’s recommendation of A Week to be Wicked. The audio version, narrated by Carolyn Morris is fabulous! I reviewed it HERE.
Hi, Shannon, I suggest for your next Tessa Dare, you try A Week to Be Wicked. Okay, it’s book #2 in a series (don’t know if I ever read book #1), but that was my starting point for Tessa Dare’s books–I’ve read most of them after AWtBW–and it’s the only one that’s ever really wowed me. But wow me it did.
Also, question: By “disfigured,” do you mean the hero has a horrible jagged scar running down one side of his face, while the other side of his face is basically unblemished and quite handsome? I ask half-jokingly, because in so many romances, that’s the way the disfigurement is portrayed.
My favorite of Ms. Dare’s is her debut–Goddess of the Hunt. After that, I’d recommend A Week to Be Wicked.
He has half his body disfigured because of an explosion at war. Tons of scar tissue from the burns. Not just one scar on the face, no.