Never Deny a Duke
He is the last duke standing
. . . the sole remaining bachelor of the three self-proclaimed Decadent Dukes. Yet Davina MacCallum’s reasons for searching out the handsome Duke of Brentworth have nothing to do with marriage. Scottish lands were unfairly confiscated from her family by the Crown and given to his. A reasonable man with vast holdings can surely part with one trivial estate, especially when Davina intends to put it to good use. Brentworth, however, is as difficult to persuade as he is to resist.
The Duke of Brentworth’s discretion and steely control make him an enigma even to his best friends. Women especially find him inscrutable and unapproachable—but also compellingly magnetic. So when Davina MacCallum shows no signs of being even mildly impressed by him, he is intrigued. Until he learns that her mission in London involves claims against his estate. Soon the two of them are engaged in a contest that allows no compromise. When duty and desire collide, the best laid plans are about to take a scandalous turn—into the very heart of passion . . .
Dabney and Caz are both fans of Madeline Hunter’s work, and both read Never Deny a Duke – they’re here to share their thoughts on the novel.
Caz: First of all I have to say that I was really relieved to discover that Never Deny a Duke was a big improvement on the previous book in the series, A Devil of a Duke, which just scraped a C grade from me last year. And I liked the premise of this one – and the way Ms. Hunter handles it – quite a lot. Davina MacCallum has come to London in order to petition for the return of the Scottish lands and title she believes were unfairly … ‘diverted’ to an English nobleman following the Jacobite uprising in the mid-1700s, but although the King (George IV) had given her reason to believe he would support her when they met during his recent visit to Edinburgh, when he returns to London nothing happens, so Davina comes south to further her cause. It turns out that the lands in question were given to the Dukes of Brentworth, and the current holder of the title – reserved, discreet and formidable Eric Marshall – has no intention of just handing over part of his estate. This story could so easily have been one of those “feisty-heroine-stomps-her-foot-a-lot-while-driving-reserved-hero-round-the bend” stories, but Ms. Hunter instead presents two grown-up, sensible characters who, while striking sparks off each other, approach the situation with a degree of common sense. They are opponents and neither wants to give way, but they’re not stubborn for the sake of it and while each wants to be proven right, there’s no sense that they’d resort to underhandedness to do it.
Dabney: This is my favorite Hunter since her Rarest Blooms series. This novel is wonderfully calm. As I turned page after page, there was emotional space that rather than being filled with hard to believe drama was simply replete with a growing respect and love between two leads I’d like to spend time with.
Caz: Yep, there was a real sense that these two were mature individuals who thought things through, and that made their attraction even more believable, because they both knew it was so irrational considering their circumstances. The author wisely kept the drama to the actual drama of the situation rather than manufacturing it. And on that note, I also liked the way she handled Brentworth’s Big Secret – which could have been badly overplayed, but wasn’t.
Dabney: Agreed. Even the way the claim to the estate is resolved is sane and sensible. Hunter trusts her characters’ inner thoughts and outer actions to tell the story and does so beautifully.
I also really like the sexual side of this story. This is a sensual story that breaks slowly. Without spoiling, let me just say that the last conversation in the novel the two have about the passion they share was singular in its honesty and focus. I loved it.
Caz: I also appreciated the lack of overdone mental lusting. There’s no doubt about the attraction between the couple, but as you say, it’s a slow, sensual build and it was lovely to read.
I really liked both leads – I keep coming back to the words “mature” and “adult”, and I suppose that’s partly because they’re so strongly contrasted with the number of romance protagonists who don’t behave that way – but I got a real sense that both of them were people who knew themselves and were comfortable in their own skins. They communicate well, even when doing so might not be in the interest of gaining their objective. I particularly liked that Davina, while having unusual ambitions for a woman of the time, doesn’t feel the need to jump up and down while shouting “look how unconventional I am!”
Dabney: Let’s also give a shoutout to how well Hunter handled the history in this book. It could have been sooooo dull, all that stuff about historical documents, church records, and the plunder of the British Empire, but, instead, Hunter tells her story in a way that all those small details are interesting and feel nicely integral to the story.
Caz: Yes, and I particularly liked the way she portrayed the king (George IV) which was, from everything I’ve read, pretty accurate, especially about his propensity to agree to things and then backpedal, or his tendency toward paranoia.
Dabney: I’m happy for you. I am an HR reader who, unless it’s so egregious that I am aware of it – I’m still not clear when the Regency era ends and the Victorian begins – the specific historical veracity of a story doesn’t matter much to me.
Caz: Um… yeah, well, we’re polar opposites on that one. So rather than get into a fight about it (!), I’m going to move on and say this; it’s common, in the last book of a series, to bring back characters from earlier novels, but sometimes that seems as though it’s done just for the sake of it. Here, however, the Duke of Stratton (from The Most Dangerous Duke in London) has a significant part to play. He’s a good friend to Brentworth, listens well and offers good advice, and I appreciated that he wasn’t there just to pay lip service. What I didn’t like so much, though, was the way that both the previous heroes came across as rather hen-pecked (!) I know we like it when these sexy, alpha heroes fall for their women, but that doesn’t mean they need to turn into doormats after the wedding!
Dabney: Um… *looks around furtively* …Well, as someone who is famous for her bossiness and who is blessed to be married to someone who lets me have my own way on many things, I didn’t notice that. I did, however, really like that the friendship between the two men seems real and important to them. They’re not bros raising beers, they’re mature men sharing wisdom and supporting one another.
Caz: I’ve been going back and forth over a final grade for this one and have decided to go with a B+. The characters, the romance, the plot and the historical detail all combine to make this one of those ‘quiet’ character-driven romances I really enjoy.
Dabney: Me too. It’s a lovely, wise, subtly sexy read.