One Dance With a Duke
I was most impressed by Tessa Dare’s trilogy from last year, and asked to review One Dance With a Duke, the first in her new trilogy. So, what’s the verdict? Well, in a nutshell, I loved the characters, but the story could have used some tightening up.
Lady Amelia d’Orsay descends from a noble family – a noble family that has fallen into genteel poverty. She has had a couple of Seasons, but since she’s not a simpering miss, and her family isn’t wealthy, she’s pretty well on the shelf and almost resigned to being a spinster – almost. Amelia still dreams of a home and family of her own – she grew up in a happy family and is still close to her brothers. Her older brother is Laurent, the Earl of Beauvale, who has married a wealthy, if silly woman, and he’s slowly rebuilding the family fortunes. Her brother Hugh joined the army and was killed in action. Then there’s Amelia’s younger brother Jack. He is the proverbial wild child who spends all his time carousing. At a ball, Amelia discovers that Jack owes 400 pounds in gambling debts to Spencer Dumarque, the Duke of Moreland, and the family country home, Briarbank, has been let for the summer.
Spencer has only recently come to town and he is sending frissons through the belles of the ton. He was brought up in the wilds of Canada, and rumor has it, he is not quite civilized. Spencer’s habit is to come into a ball at midnight, pick out a young lady and dance with her, then escort her to supper and disappear. He’s known as the Midnight Duke.
Amelia is desperate to persuade Spencer to forgive her brother’s debt. She loves Briarwood passionately and the prospect of spending summer there is all that keeps her soul alive, and despite his fecklessness, she loves Jack dearly. So Amelia takes her courage in hand and boldly asks Spencer for the midnight dance. He is nonplussed at her daring, but goes along with her and after the dance, he and Amelia retire to the garden to talk. While they are in the garden, two other men, Bellamy and Ashworth, come barging in with the news that Leo Chatwick, the Marquess of Harcliffe has been killed. Amelia and Leo grew up as neighbors and friends and she insists on going with Spencer and his friends to break the news to Leo’s sister, Lily.
Leo had founded a club (The Stud Club) based on the ownership of a prize racehorse, and Bellamy and Ashworth seem to think that Spencer (who is bound and determined to have the horse boarded on his property) might be behind Leo’s death. But that plot disappears for a long time. Spencer has compromised Amelia and he asks for her hand in marriage and she agrees. So two strangers have to get to know each other.
I loved Amelia. She was such a wonderful character, full of intelligence, passion and self knowledge. Her marriage to Spencer was initially one of convenience for both of them. She wanted a home, he wanted an heir, and although there was physical passion on both their parts, there wasn’t much emotional connection, mostly because Spencer is one of the most uncommunicative characters ever. He has some puzzling quirks to his behavior, but up until quite late in the book, he never explains why he acts like he does until he finally bares his soul and then it all makes sense. Happily, Amelia is a sensible woman who will be able to deal with him.
While I liked the characters, the plot gave me pause. It was a potentially interesting one, but it’s all over the place. We are introduced to Spencer’s friends, Leo’s murder, and the Stud Club early in the book, then they disappear for a LONG stretch in the middle, while the story focuses on Spencer, Amelia and their relationship. While I enjoyed it (Tessa Dare does a very good job developing the sexual tension and growing affection between Spencer and Amelia), I couldn’t help but wonder when the external plot was going to reappear. It did in the final third of the book, with extras, most notably the plight of Spencer’s ward Claudia. Jack comes back as well and in the rush to finish, there are strands of plot that never get resolved. However, there are two more books in the series and I am sure everything will be wrapped up eventually.
I like Tessa Dare’s writing style very much. It’s smooth and lush without being flowery, and she certainly can develop her main characters. My main complaint was the loose and rambling plot. I had several questions at the end of it, and several minor characters are left with their fates up in the air. While I do love series, I like them with more closure than I got with One Dance With a Duke.