The Duke Heist
The Duke Heist is the first novel in Erica Ridley’s The Wild Wynchesters series. It’s a light-hearted but sometimes silly tale featuring the adopted daughter of a baron who happens to fall in love with the duke she kidnaps!
Chloe Wynchester is one of six orphans adopted by Baron Vanderbean – affectionately known as Bean. Each orphan has a special talent: Chloe’s is the ability to blend in and assume different identities because no one ever seems to remember her. Eight months previously, the family’s beloved painting of Puck and Family – precious to them because of the symbolism of its depiction of Puck and six of his fellow sprites – was stolen and replaced with – of all things – a vase. The siblings know exactly who took their painting – the now deceased Duke of Faircliffe – and have devised a plan to get it back. They’ll switch it with a fake after the current Duke presents it to his intended. The plan is successful but in the process of escaping, Chloe accidentally kidnaps the new Duke of Faircliffe, Lawrence Gosling. She takes him to an inn she and her siblings use when they need an escape, then hides Lawrence in a cupboard so he won’t be seen and forced to marry her when her brother comes to rescue her. In exchange for hiding him (and thus avoiding an unwanted marriage) Lawrence promises her a favor.
Upon returning home, Chloe and her siblings discover the painting they so love is also a fake and decide Chloe should claim her favor from the Duke, and ask him to tutor her in the ways of society so she can find herself a husband – and so that she can secretly search his home for the real painting.
Lawrence is all too happy to teach Chloe the finer points of fitting into society if it means settling their debt. Since his father was a walking scandal, Lawrence is desperate to avoid making a spectacle of himself at all costs. The first thing he shows Chloe is how to behave at dinner: how to enter, where she might sit, and which piece of silverware to use when. Next, Lawrence teaches Chloe to dance. Through the lessons, he begins to realize the woman he thought would make an ideal duchess isn’t the ideal woman for him.
I was excited to receive this title for review, but sadly, it didn’t quite live up to my expectations. The Wynchesters are a tight knit group of siblings unrelated by blood but still fiercely loyal to each other. I enjoyed reading about each character’s talent, even if I felt some of them were a bit over the top and unrealistic to the point of almost being completely ridiculous. I liked the way Chloe’s talent (being ‘invisible’) ties into how she views herself and how she overcomes that feeling in the end. Lawrence is delightfully stuffy and unwilling, for a time, to change his mind. That’s my favorite kind of hero, and I thought he was great, even when he was being a bit of a prig.
The pacing isn’t too bad although there are a few slow spots. The synopsis is a bit misleading though, as Lawrence is kidnapped and released by the twelve-percent mark, and I had expected the story would be more of a Lawrence-in-captivity type of situation. I still enjoyed the mini kidnapping episode, but wish it had been as important to the plot as the blurb implied. I have a fondness for stories in which one character giving another lessons of the sort Lawrence gives Chloe, so that aspect worked for me as well.. I do, however, wish there had been more of a clear main plot, as once the kidnapping was over it was hard to tell where the story was going.
While I am generally entertained by Ms. Ridley’s novels, the uneven pacing, sketchy plot and the sometimes ridiculous ‘talents’ of the siblings made this one a rare miss for me.