How to Deceive a Duke
Grade : D+

Samara Parish’s How to Deceive a Duke begins as Fiona McTavish, in a jail, tries her best to think of a way out before the men sharing the cell discover she’s a woman. Fiona is dressed in breeches, with her hair piled up under a wig, because she was in London to pitch an invention of hers to manufacturers. And she’s in jail because she took part in a demonstration, threw some rotten fruit, and was arrested for disorderly conduct. The jail’s occupants realize she’s got something to hide, but fortunately the boy accompanying her on her mission got away and has gone for help.

Less fortunately, from Fiona’s perspective, is that the boy runs to Edward Stirling, the Duke of Wildeforde. Edward and Fiona fell in love in a previous book, when they met in Scotland and he hid his true identity, but after that was revealed, he left her. He comes to the rescue now, although Fiona wants nothing to do with him. However, the only way he can secure her freedom until her trial is to take responsibility for her, so Fiona ends up living in his London house, where she sets up a laboratory in a drawing-room. Meanwhile, the two of them deal with their scorching mutual attraction as well as her independence and his reluctance to marry her.

A STEM genius heroine in a historical romance is routine by now, but Fiona takes the expected qualities up to eleven. Is she out to fight the class system? Of course. Is she young, gorgeous, and a virgin? Naturally. Does she go to White’s and attend balls dressed as a man? You bet. Does she have unprotected sex with Edward but refuse to marry him? You don’t even need to read the book to know this. There’s some backstory about how she was once destitute, and perhaps that accounts for her utter lack of caution, but it didn’t make her a heroine I could relate to at all.

On top of that, she dons her masculine guise and tries to persuade a lord to back her business venture before any of the various enemies she’s made can expose her secret. What did she think a peer of the realm would do – throw up his hands and decide that since he signed a contract with a liar, he’s got no choice but to honor it?

Edward fares better, since he doesn’t come off as completely anachronistic. His mother insists he marry a woman of his class, citing an example of a shopkeeper’s daughter who wed an aristocrat and then, because of the ton’s nastiness, killed herself. So, deciding it was better for Fiona to break her heart than her neck, he left her. Plus, he’s concerned that any scandal will affect his sister’s coming out. Though he needn’t have worried, because the sister is also cast in the Modern Heroine mold and wants to do hands-on work helping underprivileged women, as opposed to the financial assistance Edward would rather provide. Really, he acts like this is 1816.

Of course, Edward quickly realizes how amazing Fiona is, especially compared to the “simpering” girls who are shoved at him in ballrooms, but to the bitter end, she believes that women can either have a worthwhile career or do things like hosting dinner parties. Naturally, Edward’s sister agrees with her, saying, “My governess never taught me anything useful.” Because painting, sewing, foreign languages, etc. are such useless skills. Only science matters.

Historical accuracy here is likewise limited to scientific developments. When Fiona passes herself off as a man to Edward’s siblings, they insist on using first names and drag “him” into every social event possible. The ladies whom Edward’s mother considers suitable are all invited to his townhouse so they can sit around in a semicircle and paint him with a pineapple in his lap, while he evaluates them for the post of duchess. No chaperones are mentioned. His sister also dresses as a man and attends a ball in what even the narrative describes as a “madcap scheme”. I’ve sometimes wondered about the number of aristocrats who run gaming-hells, but this is the first time I’ve hoped not to see any more women strolling through ballrooms in breeches.

The sex scenes are steamy and the story was never boring, but that’s because it’s so over-the-top. When a duke rides through Hyde Park in his nightshirt, all you can do is settle in to wait for the next unbelievable development. Though the last straw is when Edward decides to show Fiona that he doesn’t care about society, and therefore “Edward had been caught kissing Lady Walderstone in the middle of a ballroom, much to the anger of Lord Walderstone, who had been dancing with her moments prior.” Lady Walderstone is seventy, so Fiona isn’t jealous, but neither is she at all concerned about Lady Walderstone. Did the woman consent to the kiss? Did her husband take it out on her later? The story doesn’t say, because Lady Walderstone is a mere prop in Edward’s campaign and because feminine solidarity only applies to young women who are social activists.

Ultimately, How to Deceive a Duke may appeal to readers who enjoy these particular tropes, but I can’t recommend it at all.

Reviewed by Marian Perera

Grade: D+

Book Type: Historical Romance

Sensuality: Warm

Review Date : February 19, 2023

Publication Date: 01/2022

Recent Comments …

  1. I read Ulrich’s book several years ago,it was excellent. American Experience on PBS did an adaptation of the book, it…

Marian Perera

I'm Marian, originally from Sri Lanka but grew up in the United Arab Emirates, studied in Georgia and Texas, ended up in Toronto. When I'm not at my job as a medical laboratory technologist, I read, write, do calligraphy, and grow vegetables in the back yard.
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