Desert Isle Keeper
The Bluestocking Duchess
Julia Justiss’ historicals often read somewhat like trads with a little extra depth to them, so I pulled The Bluestocking Duchess out of my stack and came away quite charmed.
The hero and heroine start off on somewhat equal social footing. Jocelyn Sudderfeld is the daughter and sister of scholars who work under the patronage of the Duke of Farisdeen. Her father is somewhat retired, but Jocelyn spends her days assisting her brother with translations of Greek drama. And in her off hours, she enjoys her friendship with Farisdeen’s estate manager, a distant cousin by the name of Alex Cheverton. Their friendship sometimes turns a bit flirtatious, but both know it isn’t going anywhere. Jocelyn doesn’t dare let just anyone close enough to discover just how deeply involved she is in her brother’s scholarship, and Alex has promised the Duke he will not marry for at least ten years after beginning his employment.
The book starts off mildly enough and I instantly found myself drawn into it because Jocelyn and Alex are just such likeable people. I enjoyed their conversations and the subtle tension between them felt so real and well-done. It’s very much a nineteenth century version of a work crush, and my twenty-first century self could relate.
However, the tension increases as the leads’ circumstances change dramatically. Jocelyn had been lurching through an unenthusiastic betrothal to a friend of her brother’s who will not object to her scholarly pursuits, but this man suddenly jilts her in order to seize upon a match that will further his career. In the meantime, Alex’s life undergoes an even larger alteration. The Duke’s son dies, and Alex learns that he is now the presumptive heir to the dukedom.
At his uncle’s insistence, Alex moves to London where he will be introduced to the Duke’s connections, and the Duke makes it clear that he expects Alex to make a suitable match. However, when Jocelyn also has a chance to go stay with an aunt in London, Alex finds himself gravitating to her more and more. While this book has a low heat rating, if you like books with plenty of yearning, this one has it.
While Jocelyn had a genteel upbringing, she is nowhere near aristocratic enough to get the Duke’s approval as a match for Alex, and both of them know it. For this reason, the constant dance of ‘Will we get together or won’t we?’ makes a certain amount of sense. The author does a good job of laying out just what kinds of obstacles this couple will have to conquer on the path to true love, and it makes the ultimate resolution of this story feel quite sweet. I love friends-to-lovers stories, and I needed a comfort read, which this novel certainly provided.