Desert Isle Keeper
My Last Duchess
My Last Duchess is a wonderful, engaging story about finding new love after heartbreak, and taking a risk on happiness instead of contentment. It is a sweet, hopeful book that shows that love comes around more than once.
Lady Ophelia Astley is a respectable widow, raising her daughter alone after the premature death of her husband, Sir Peter. She has no desire to remarry; she is content to live with her daughter Viola and to focus solely on motherhood. While Ophelia and Peter lived in harmony, they were not in love, and Ophelia sees no reason to risk her independence on another marriage.
Hugo, the Duke of Lindow, has been unlucky in love, and in marriage. While he adored his first wife, she died, and his second brought him incredible anguish, as she ignored their children, and blatantly embarked on an affair before abandoning the family. Having been granted a divorce, Hugo is determined to never marry again, until his sister Louisa reminds him of the duty he has to his children. Hugo is a father to eight, one adopted, three from his first marriage and four from his second. While his older sons are out of the nursery and at school, Hugo has young daughters who will require a woman to bring them into society, and even his older children need a mother-like figure to provide stability. Grim but determined, Hugo makes for London, where he immediately encounters Ophelia and becomes instantly smitten with her.
Hugo makes it his business to meet Ophelia and get to know her, vetting her for the position of wife and mother. She is beautiful, smart, kind, and a loving parent to her daughter. While Ophelia feels a pull towards Hugo, she does not wish to give up the life she has for the uncertainty of a life with him, nor is she particularly keen on a family that could field a cricket team on their own. Given these differences, they reluctantly go their separate ways, and Hugo continues his search for a wife. While he does find a reasonable substitute to pay his addresses to, Hugo keeps running into Ophelia around London. Though they both acknowledge their reasons for not acting on their mutual attraction, their feelings for each other only get stronger as they get further acquainted. Lady Woolhastings, Hugo’s potential bride, is the perfect candidate to become Hugo’s duchess: she’s successfully launched her own daughters, she is respected and even feared by the ton, which would quiet any gossip about Hugo’s unconventional family. Plus, she’s past child-bearing age, which would keep that family from growing any further. Yet even as he squires Lady Woolhastings around London, Hugo can’t help but feel that, despite their differences, Ophelia is the one for him.
I don’t usually go for love-at-first sight romances, but I don’t think this one counts. While Hugo and Ophelia are instantly attracted to one another, they only really fall in love through the course of getting to know each other and meeting each other’s families. Their love isn’t a lighting bolt, it’s a candle; the spark is there from the beginning, and while there is definite chemistry from their first conversation, their relationship deepens realistically over time. The obstacles to their union are dealt with realistically, and those obstacles are considerable. Both characters have to come to terms with their needs and desires, and decide to take a risk on happiness.
One of the strongest parts of this book is the secondary characters. The kids are well written, but Hugo’s twin sister Louisa is truly delightful. While she’s kind of pushy with her brother, it’s clearly out of love, and their relationship is one of honesty and respect. Louisa is relatively independent, but she takes a lot of responsibility for her nieces and nephews, providing a maternal presence for them in the absence of their mothers. She speaks frankly, makes her opinions known, and provides guidance for her brother and his children. It says a lot that there are well-written, strong relationships in this book outside of the romance; Ophelia has a strong bond with her daughter and her cousin, while Hugo works on being a present, engaged father.
The only place the book loses points is when Hugo’s new courtship goes so drastically wrong – it added another dimension that the story doesn’t need. The conflicts keeping Hugo and Ophelia apart are considerable enough, without inserting a character between them to up the stakes. I was really impressed by this book, especially as it is a prequel, and it does an excellent job of establishing the characters without relying on the reader having previous knowledge of them. My Last Duchess is a stunning and romantic read that will make you want to pick up the whole series to keep up with the Wildes.