Not That Duke
Grade : B+

Not That Duke begins with this author’s note:

There’s no need to have read The Reluctant Countess, but if you have, you’ll notice that Part 1 of Not That Duke takes place in the same time frame.

This is not true. I haven’t read The Reluctant Countess. If I had, I wouldn’t have been so bothered that in this book, the hero, Silvester, The Duke of Huntington, is determined to wed a gorgeous woman named Yasmine. Yasmin is not the heroine of this story–wallflower Stella is. Thus, the first half of this book in which Silvester schemes and pines for Yasmin were confusing and, given how fabulous Stella is, did not reflect well on said Duke.

I’m glad I sallied on for the second half of the book is a gem, just like Stella. (She, by the way, looks nothing like the slim, glasses-free woman on the cover.)

Stella is twenty, nearing the end of her first season, redheaded, bosomy, wears glasses, and crackingly smart. So, of course, no one in the ton wants to marry her other than the fortune hunters who are attracted to her very large dowry. Stella’s not really marriage is any great prize anyway. She’d rather, she tells her stuffy aunt and guardian,“Use my dowry to live in the country. Anywhere with a bookstore nearby.” 

There is one man she’d like to, well not necessarily marry–if she must marry, she plans to marry the most knowledgeable man she can find–but, ah, lick.

The Duke of Huntington was the most eligible man in England, possessed of a large estate, decent stature, and all his teeth. Ladies’ eyes followed him everywhere.

But she doubted that other debutantes had explicit daydreams about how they’d like to . . . to lick him. Do breathless, depraved things that Stella couldn’t quite envision.

Late at night, she spun stories under the sheets, during which he did things that she was certain no other lady had even imagined.

But the Duke, Silvester, is openly courting the most beautiful woman in the ton, Yasmin Régnier.

… Silvester intended to marry Yasmin. She had charm, hair the color of old ducats, a naughty giggle . . . More than that, he and Yasmin were friends, never mind the fact that he’d love to bed her.

He felt the pull of her in his bones, deep in his gut.

Perhaps even in his heart.

Now of course there are reasons he feels this way. His own parents were–his marvelous mother still is–so eccentric they were socially shunned. (Not that they cared–they were too busy inventing better railway steam engines, together!) Silvester is all that is revered in society and Yasmin seems to him–and his cock–the perfect wife.

Yasmin–in this book–seems rather shallow, so it doesn’t surprise the reader that despite lusting after Yasmin and planning their future, Silvester really enjoys matching wits with Stella. And, for the first half of the book, that’s pretty much all that happens. Stella has the hots for Silvester. Silvester has the hots for Yasmin. And Yasmin clearly has the hots for Giles Renwick, Earl of Lilford whom, I came to realize, she married in the first book. It didn’t work for me and had James not so excelled at this book’s banter–I haven’t laughed at a James book this much since Three Weeks with Lady X-I might have put the novel down.

Fortunately, Silvester gets his head out of his ass and realizes that not only is Yasmin in love with one of his oldest friends, he, Silvester, is utterly entranced by Stella. But Stella, after over a hundred pages of watching Silvester pursue Yasmin, doesn’t believe he cares for her. (The title is misleading–she really does always want that Duke–it’s just she thinks he’s not for her.) And honestly, I was sort of with her.

Stella is a wonderful woman, brilliant, strong-willed, resilient; someone who doesn’t want to compromise who she is for anyone. In fact, this is one of those books that it’s a bit hard to buy that no one wanted Stella. She’s a classic James heroine–she could be the auburn twin of Mia, the heroine of Four Nights With the Duke whom I adore. She’s curvy, very funny, and has a heart of gold. (Her true love, for much of the novel, is her rescued kitten Specs who steals every scene she’s in.) Silvester is damn lucky she waited for him to come to his senses.

Despite this pitfall, ultimately I very much enjoyed Silvester and Stella’s story. James masterfully depicts Silvester’s confusion and frustration and I found myself forgiving him for his earlier idiocy. The tenor of the book is airy, charming, and wonderfully sly. The love scenes are both sweet and very very dirty (for James). This is a book with great affection for its characters, especially its women. Stella’s aunt and Silvester’s mother each are given deep backstories of their own and both stories are moving and, in ways that seem believable, empowering.

There’s another author’s note in the book, this time at the end. In it James writes:

I grew up in a farmhouse full of books, the oldest child of two eccentric, creative parents: my father was a poet and my mother a short story writer. A couple of miles away, down a few dirt roads, was a small Minnesota town . . . where I never fit in. I was too weird, too addicted to reading, too plump. Like Stella, I was no good at disguising who I am. Thankfully, unlike Regency England, no girl is forced to attend the junior prom. I stayed home and catalogued my romances, practicing skills that would make me an English professor—and a romance writer….

It took me a long time to shake my experiences in middle school. Stella was shamed for her freckles, her reading, and her girth. Silvester created a suit of armor to offset his boyhood shame. Luckily, Silvester and Stella find their way together to a different way of being in the world.

So this book is dedicated to my husband, Alessandro.

When he fell in love with me, I felt like the most beautiful, intelligent, and desirable woman in the world. Love isn’t about reality, but perception, and I’m so grateful to have spent half my life looking through his eyes.

Sigh… I found that lovely, just like this book (after I got through the first half!)

So, yes, read this book. Just read The Reluctant Countess first.


Reviewed by Dabney Grinnan

Grade: B+

Sensuality: Warm

Review Date : July 24, 2023

Publication Date: 07/2023

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Dabney Grinnan

Impenitent social media enthusiast. Relational trend spotter. Enjoys both carpe diem and the fish of the day. Publisher at AAR.
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