Nothing Compares to the Duke
I had to write this review promptly lest I fully forget what I just read in Nothing Compares to the Duke, a romance whose best quality is its lack of an agenda other than amusement and whose worst quality is its inability to provide amusement that lingers.
Arabella – Bella – Prescott hopes that for her eighteenth birthday, the future-duke, boy-next-door, Rhys Forester, will ask for her hand in marriage. Having spent her childhood with him in mutual happiness, and as the daughter of two aristocrat-academics who value marital love, Bella has reason for hope. Tragically, at her birthday party, Bella finds Rhys more interested in seeing the birthday suit of a widow in the garden rather than the birthday girl. Five years later, Bella is still unmarried to everything but the “book of cerebral puzzles and logic problems” she wants to publish and dreams of Rhys that she can’t eliminate. Now, her parents want to travel to Greece for work (!) and leave her behind in England, safely wedded, when they go. Rhys, meanwhile, has met the fate of all romance-novel rakes: “He’d always been as willful as he was wayward, but what he could no longer deny was how tired it all made him.” Reuniting for the first time in five years, the two broker a deal of fiancé(e)s and finances – Rhys will enter into a fake engagement with Bella, and she will help him understand the money problems that have come along with his new dukedom.
My favorite thing about Nothing Compares to the Duke was that while it bowed to the new historical romance trend of making heroines specialists in some STEM field, it made it a part of the plot that brought Bella closer to love rather than further away from it. Her skill in math helps her contribute to her relationship with Rhys, and ultimately transforms their dynamic from friendship into romantic love. And instead of being deadly serious, her passion for her profession(ish) is fun – one of the games she comes up with involves matching couples and the solution is “marriage”.
Rhys is a likeable hero, but I never stopped worrying about him. His behavior at times strongly suggests an alcohol problem; I can’t remember another romance in which the reunion at the end of the story occurs with the hero completely intoxicated (I prefer such happy things to occur under circumstances that I think both hero and heroine will remember well enough to tell their babies). And Carlyle definitely leaves open the door to skepticism as to whether Bella really “had changed everything in” Rhys.
Nothing Compares to the Duke is supremely easy to read – I blew through it in a weekend evening and morning. It’s the equivalent of one of the neighborhood walks I’ve taken each day during the pandemic – enjoyable, though nothing about it really lingers and it did me more good than harm, by keeping me in a decent mood if not causing it. One completely random thing that bothered me was that the characters seem to be chameleons of scent: the way they smelled was always changing! Bella at times smells of “violets”, “lemons and fresh air”, and “cinnamon and the autumn air”. Remarkable.
If you’re looking for an historical that has little commentary to make about modernity, nothing I have read recently *ahem* compares to it.