Least Likely to Marry a Duke
Louise Allen’s Least Likely to Marry a Duke features my favorite type of hero – buttoned-up, bound by duty and convention but with a sense of humor and ease just waiting to be unbuttoned by the right woman. Will Calthorpe, the Duke of Aylsham, was raised by his grandfather to be the perfect heir. Will’s father had been a disappointment to the old duke, marrying a beautiful, eccentric woman who had “ideas of her own” after Will’s mother died. Now that his grandfather and father are dead, Will is left with the responsibilities of the dukedom plus six step-siblings, all a little wild and free-spirited due to their mother’s unique educational theories. Will sees that his first duty (after the mourning period is observed of course) is to marry the right woman:
The old man had been firm on the importance of not marrying an unsuitable woman…suitable meant well bred, handsome, fertile and brought up to the highest standards of deportment. A pleasant disposition, an adequate level of education and reasonable intelligence were, of course, desirable. Unconventional ideas and eccentricity were impossible.
While Will is out walking his land, pondering the step-sibling and marriage dilemmas, he slips and falls into the excavation of a small burial mound, and lands at the feet of Verity Wingate, excavationist and daughter of a retired bishop living on the adjoining estate. A few awkward moments later, they introduce themselves and attempt small talk but it is obvious that Will disapproves of Verity’s hoydenish ways and she is amused at his glaring discomfort with her. The next day, Will and his three oldest step-siblings visit the Bishop and Verity. Will regrets that the children will be exposed to “another unconventional female” but duty comes first.
The children take to Verity immediately and she and Will take them to visit the garden and maze. Observing Will with his siblings in a more relaxed environment, she sees that he loves the children – and also that he has an unexpected sense of humor. Will and Verity get a chance to argue and discover more about each other and despite their many differences of opinion, an attraction starts to bloom.
The next day, after being aggressively admired at church by the local marriage-minded mamas, Will decides to walk back to his house. Verity also has a walk on her mind and this time she falls on top of him as he is resting, log-like, by a pond. The attraction continues, a kiss follows… and Will makes the misstep of apologising:
“Because, clearly, that was a mistake. A most serious error of judgement….I took advantage of your alarm. And so I apologise, it was unconscionable.”
“It was a perfectly pleasant kiss, that is what it was. All it was….I wanted to kiss you, you wanted to kiss me. We kissed. It was an adequate kiss. There is no cause to be ungracious about it.”
“Adequate? Ungracious? Have you no sense of propriety….We had both taken leave of our senses.”
“And I have said there was no call to apologise for it. I refer to your inability to recognise that I am a thinking adult who can make her own decisions. Now that is an insult.”
Both storm off, determined to avoid each other if at all possible. The Bishop, however, insists on returning Will’s call, with Verity in tow. Will’s siblings, determined to have him marry someone they like, contrive to abandon the couple overnight, on an island in the middle of Will’s property. Will feels duty bound to offer for Verity, but Verity refuses to marry a man who disapproves of her. She chooses to face the scandal instead.
Will and Verity make a fun, refreshing couple. Both are intelligent and strong-willed, kind, honorable and determined to be true to themselves and their ideals. They are also a little stubborn and quick to judge. The chemistry between them is palpable from their first meeting; they felt it, I felt it, and I was invested in seeing how their romance would unfold.
Ms. Allen is an excellent writer and does a beautiful job showing us what is in the hearts of her protagonists. But Verity and Will do a lousy job of being honest with each other, and when Verity heads to London to take on the scandal head-on, the book takes a detour and the magic between the two takes a back seat to some other dramas.
And that’s when my interest waned. Will and Verity’s budding relationship was the main attraction of the book and their witty conversations are a delight. When they’re separated, the book goes adrift and never quite gets itself back on course. And the interesting group of Verity’s friends, so well described early on, are basically dropped from the narrative. I would have loved to see how a marriage between Will and Verity developed – how they’d deal with Will’s step mother and his siblings, how her friends and their pursuits would impact the marriage, how Will reconciles himself to an unconventional wife and so on.
Least Likely to Marry a Duke didn’t go in the direction I wanted, but it is still a good story and I rooted for Verity and Will throughout (although sometimes I yelled at them too). Readers who enjoy Ms. Allen’s work will probably enjoy this book. I did – I just wanted more of the delightful rapport between Verity and Will, fewer distractions and less stubbornness!
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|Review Date:||May 23, 2019|
|Book Type:||Historical Romance|
|Review Tags:||Harlequin Historical|
Quick question/comment: are they step-siblings or half-siblings? If Will’s father is also their father, they are half-siblings (same father, different mother), but if they are Will’s stepmother’s by a prior marriage, they are step-siblings (different father, different mother).
I’ve enjoyed and admired a number of Allen’s books, but I almost always come away with the same feeling: I wish it had been a bit longer. It would have been so much better with just a bit more development. Do you suppose her publisher insists on a word count limit?
Yes. Most books have word/page count limits, and that’s true of category romances. Harlequin Historicals are generally 288 pages, Presents and Intrigue are shorter, around 240, I think (it’s been a while since I read one).
One of the things I most admire about the best of the HH authors is their ability to tell a great story with plenty of romantic development in such a short page count. It doesn’t always work, but when it does, it’s quite a skill!
Exactly. What Caz said. Some single titles feel like they would’ve been tighter and more successful as category romances rather than bloated single titles. Sometimes, I feel authors add sex scenes to pad length. Given the short format of categories, the writer needs to be really skilled to be able to tell a full story in that space.
I just checked the Harlequin Submittable page for word count requirements. Harlequin Historical is 75,000 words, Presents is 50,000 words, Intrigue is 55,000 words. According to a recent blog post I read on Write for Harlequin, the author must be within 1,000 words of those limits.
Like you, I am impressed with what Harlequin authors accomplish within a relatively small word count. 50,000 words? That’s typically considered the minimum length for a novel, so not very big. But it typically forces a brisk pace, which is good. One of the drawbacks I’ve noticed lately though is that the last 10% tends to move like a whirlwind- with the climax often feeling forced for that reason.
Yes, the first half is SO GOOD. And then…. I will definitely keep reading Allen.. I’ve enjoyed the majority of her work.
Sounds roughly about midcanon in Allen’s oeuvre – I’ve read a little bit better from them before. Too bad it doesn’t reach its peak!