How to Tame Your Duke
Juliana Grey’s writing in How to Tame Your Duke flows beautifully and she does a lovely job of painting pictures with her words. However, while the writing works from a stylistic perspective, much of one’s enjoyment of this book will hinge on one’s ability to suspend disbelief. And as I read, I just couldn’t do it.
Princess Emilie and her sisters have fled political turmoil in Holstein-Schweinwald-Huhnhof, a German-speaking principality which appears to have escaped the 1871 unification of Germany. Under the protection of their uncle, the Duke of Olympia, each princess has been dispatched in disguise to a separate location. Scholarly Emilie, posing as Mr. Grimsby the tutor, travels to Yorkshire to prepare the Duke of Ashland’s son for his Oxford entrance exams. The duke’s wife has left him and the duke himself suffered terrible disfigurements in Afghanistan, so the household is a quiet, subdued one.
Almost from the beginning things feel very uneven. On the one hand, Emilie and her somewhat immature, friendship-starved charge hit it off right away. However, no one seems to notice that the slender young woman with glued on whiskers is anything other than Mr. Grimsby. Though somewhat taciturn and not inclined to spend much time in Society, the Duke seems to be a decent man from the very beginning and it’s not hard to see why Emilie would find him interesting. So, how does Mr. Grimsby/Emilie get her man?
Well, unfortunately the answer ends up being a mixup which turns into more subterfuge, all of which taxes one’s ability to suspend disbelief even more. About midway through the book, we end up with a situation where Grimsby tutors her charge by day and then one evening a week, she gets to wear women’s clothes and go read, flirt and otherwise be womanly in the presence of Ashland who will of course be none the wiser. The fact that we make it most of the way through the book without a Big Reveal or even a hint of someone being suspicious pushed my ability to suspend disbelief past the breaking point.
And that’s truly a shame because the book does have its good points. Ashland won’t stand out as one of the Best Heroes of All Time, but I did like him. I also genuinely liked his son, the various supporting characters, and even Emilie. I appreciated the fact that even though this story featured a princess from a fictitious country, it drew upon some of the real historical conditions of the time involving anarchist societies, political upheavals on the Continent, and the like. However, I just couldn’t get past the improbability of Emilie’s masquerade. In the second half of the book, when the Duke of Ashland starts dealing with some of those loose ends left by his wife’s abandonment, we get even more fodder to challenge that ability to suspend disbelief.
About that ability to suspend disbelief: How to Tame Your Duke simply asks way too much in that department. As a result, even though the writing flows smoothly, the romance just never felt real on an emotional level. It’s not a terrible read but the plotting did make it feel a little too contrived to recommend.