Desert Isle Keeper
The Duke Who Didn't
The Duke Who Didn’t is Courtney Milan’s newest release, from a new series based in a small town in Kent. It’s the tale as old as time- boy meets girl, boy falls in love with girl, boy disappears for three years. Of course, it’s a little more complicated, seeing as the boy never told the girl he was a duke, and the girl rejected a kiss from the boy before he vanished.
Chloe Fong is a listmaking fiend; she makes a list of tasks every day and feels incredible satisfaction crossing them off. She’s lived in Wedgeford Downs all of her life, and has spent the last couple of years helping her father perfect his masterpiece, a sauce unlike any other. Unnamed Sauce will take England by storm, if the two of them can prepare everything they need in time to launch it at the village’s annual festival. There are only a few tasks remaining: filling several hundred jars, making bao to serve with the sauce, and naming the sauce that has been her father’s life’s work. So no pressure, then. The last thing Chloe needs is to be distracted, so naturally, Jeremy Yu chooses this precise moment to come back to Wedgeford.
Jeremy isn’t exactly the person he claims to be- he’s not Jeremy Yu, he’s Jeremy Wentworth, the Duke of Lansing, and he just happens to own pretty much all of Wedgeford. For years, he visited for the Wedgeford Trials, the yearly games that drew people from all over, but he had stopped coming. Jeremy is a goof, a silly guy, who finds the joke in everything and lightens any room. When he tried to kiss Chloe, she asked him if he could be serious, and he wasn’t sure if he could. So, he left, and spent three years trying, and failing, to become a serious person. Despite his failure, Jeremy returns to Wedgeford, in the hopes of convincing Chloe to marry him, regardless of his unrepentant silliness. His main obstacle lies in explaining himself, and the life she would take on as his duchess, but also in convincing the woman he loves that his proposal is genuine. Being the only half-Chinese duke in Britain is difficult enough, and Jeremy fears that the shunning they might face as a Chinese aristocratic couple might deter Chloe from accepting his proposal.
Jeremy is absolutely delicious- a protagonist with a sense of humor is a wonderful thing, and while usually it is the female lead who is the quirky, eccentric one, I loved Jeremy to pieces. Chloe is equally lovely, with her work ethic, ambition, and loyalty really making her stand out as a unique, interesting character. What’s really special about their romance is that they seem to really see each other, and know one another on a really deep level. Each does their best to meet the other’s needs, and they communicate surprisingly effectively despite not always being completely honest. Their relationship is satisfying and very sweet, exactly what I look for in a romance.
The book was also surprisingly funny, which was very enjoyable to read. It’s not exactly a plot-heavy story – it’s very much character-driven – but the two characters it so heavily leans on are very strong. There are only two things I would criticize. Firstly, that while the two principals are perfectly fleshed out, most of others barely make an impression. The only other character that really stuck with me was Chloe’s father, but his impact on the plot was fairly minimal, and the arc he had really felt under-developed. Maybe we’ll get more of Mr. Fong in further books. Lastly, that while the events of the book are centered around the Wedgeford Trials, they are only briefly explained and then don’t really have much of a footprint in the book after about the halfway point. Overall, The Duke Who Didn’t is a whimsical, fun read that any lover of historical romance and light-hearted love stories will devour in one sitting.
Buy it at: Amazon
Visit our Amazon Storefront
|Review Date:||October 2, 2020|
|Book Type:||Historical Romance|
|Review Tags:||AoC | PoC | unusual occupation|
So, I have finished this. I have thoughts.
I was actually appalled that Chloe, Jeremy, Mr. Fong and the little Wentworths had spent YEARS of their lives planning revenge even after they all found joy. It seemed petty although, to be fair, revenge is my least favorite motive.
If all the village knew about Jeremy, which I liked, that lessens the already wan sense of conflict to Jeremy’s and Chloe’s HEA. It was clear, from day one, that the two of them could live happily and without racism in Wedgeford. If racism is the barrier, this romance undercut it. I get and support that Milan wanted to show us the world as she wishes it is–hello Bridgerton!–but as a plot device, having prejudice be the problem didn’t work in the lovely context she created.
I loved the sex scenes. Total props to Milan for portraying consent and a woman who knows what she wants so deftly.
Is this worth reading? Yes, as long as you don’t expect angst or historical accuracy. In a grim year, this is a light and kind book.
And yet historical accuracy – especially in the way she has created intelligent, forward-thinking heroines BUT had them (largely) operating within the restraints of society – has been one of the things that has been so impressive about CM’s other work.
This book is NOT for you. I feel pretty sure of that!
I thought that as soon as I read this review and haven’t been tempted to pick it up. I think CM and I have broken up for good!
I’m not yet sure if I will buy the newesr Milan. Some of her books I really love, others I don’like.
But as an historian I’m really interested if there ever was a biracial duke in the UK. Does anybody know?
I’ve actually been trying to find out, because I was curious about that, too. Haven’t found one so far.
Probably not, but it does just read as something that could have happened, so it entirely works in the story. I feel like I’ve read many more unlikely dukes.
(I think the reason the exam thing bothered me was that, because it was clearly a different system than back in my day, at my much more ordinary uni, I started to wonder who would be responsible – his tutor, or the master of whatever college, or some wider forum – I was missing the point, but it took me longer than it should have to think that through.)
I enjoyed it. I really like a romance with minimal conflict, but it is difficult to tell a worthwhile story without conflict. In this instance, it worked for me.
The only bit I wondered about, and I could have used an author’s note, was how the exams in Oxford worked at the time. (I think I imagined they’d have still been doing vivas or something.) But there was a point to his experience, and it mattered to the story, so I tried not to overthink it.
I just loved all the food, and would buy an entire crate of the sauce if it was available: I can’t remember when I last so badly wanted to eat a fictional food.
I’m sure they were doing Vivas back then – I did one in the 1980s! (Uni of London not Oxford though!)
I love Courtney Milan. Some of her books are light and some of them are not so light. This one is lighter and lovely, though it deals with racism and how the pernicious effects of racism keep us from seeing others as fully people. It’s set in a small village, with just enough description of traditions for you to get a sense that it’s a unique place that is a refuge, but has managed to thrive. The central couple feel unique, but not annoying. And I love any book where the woman’s dreams and aspirations are recognized and supported.
I liked that, and one of the things I loved most about this book was how he was like, oh, your thing is way more important than my thing, and also I hate my life, so let’s do your thing.
I’m so glad this is as excellent as I’d hoped it’d be!
I would rate this one B for the first half, and A+ for the second half. Chloe is such an extreme perfectionist that her anxiety was making me anxious. After an important pair of conversations (one with her father and one with Jeremy), I felt the romance actually started to flow.
The world-building worked for me – it is not a complex situation, but it takes some explaining, and the explanation is fed through the story in tiny drops as needed. The Big Reveal gotcha worked for me 100% because there was no way the entire village didn’t know exactly who Jeremy was. He is so used to not being seen as an actual person (also used to not engaging with the world – any of it – as his real self) that I felt his failure to grasp that he was recognized made sense. I did not find him silly. What I saw all the way through was exactly what he finally admitted at the end: being serious got him nowhere, except with Chloe.
It’s very internal; there is no external villain except racism, and there is no ‘but I don’t like this about you’ between the MCs. It’s a small-town story. Chloe & Jeremy like each other a lot, always have, and are very well-suited. Personally, I think there is a lot to be said for a love interest who wants to HELP. And who does not force that help on a person, only offers it, along with a request to consider the validity of arguments against accepting help.
A lot of women really suck at accepting help. We are convinced no one can do it better than us (whatever ‘it’ is), and/or that if we don’t do it nobody else will. We overcommit, we say Yes to things we shouldn’t say yes to, and we fail to say No to things that are actively damaging. We do not ask for help because when we do, people sigh and roll their eyes and act like they think we’re weak. We are taught to see other women as competition, not as allies. We have various reasons for not believing men will step up. A lot of this lives under the surface in this book.
Also … really liked the personal and historical notes on this. The background lies in a conflict I knew nothing about despite a lot of reading on history, and I always like to learn something new.
Oh, that’s so nice to hear, that you loved it so much. Upon your recommendation, I will continue to read it. Thank you. If this book review is still being featured when I finish, I’ll let you all know what I think.
Thank you for your comments chacha1! I think I will read this with very different eyes as a result.
“The Big Reveal gotcha worked for me 100% because there was no way the entire village didn’t know exactly who Jeremy was. He is so used to not being seen as an actual person (also used to not engaging with the world – any of it – as his real self) that I felt his failure to grasp that he was recognized made sense.”
that’s a really interesting take. I’m a huge fan of a lot of Courtney Milan’s work, as well as her activism, and I was excited to read a historical romance with two Asian leads (she’d previously had a secondary romance with an Indian hero in The Heiress Effect).
However, to me Jeremy’s belief that no one in Wedgeford knew him as the Duke seemed implausible unless he was very dense and oblivious — which the character isn’t supposed to be. I thought very early in the book “How would the people living on the duke’s land never have heard that the current holder of the title is half Chinese?” Because Chloe’s POV chapters never acknowledge knowing this, I felt like I just had to accept that somehow this village didn’t know, but it interfered a lot with my enjoyment of the book.
I think he willfully chose to believe that he was not known because he so needed the refuge where he could just be himself. We are capable of perpetrating the greatest deceptions on ourselves and all that. And everyone else in the book just was being polite and humoring him, not really believing that he didn’t know they all knew his identity.
Courtney Milan is an author that I have tried to love but I can never quite get there with her books. I see how many others genuinely adore her work, particularly her earlier books, and I feel frustrated that I am missing something. While I loved the heroine in Unraveled and thought she was great I couldn’t warm up to the hero. I really disliked Proof By Seduction, again because of the hero and the way the heroine was treated. I’ve tried a couple of others and never got through them. I’ve read a couple of her novellas but I have never been left with the feeling I want to come back and revisit them.
Personally, my favorites were the Brothers Sinister series, I would recommend those. They are far more plot-y, which is more my speed.
I do tend to read books with an overarching plot or mystery to them and I love books that are connected so maybe those would work for me.
I adore Unveiled. It is my favorite of all her novels. She is/was an extraordinary novella writer–I highly recommend This Wicked Gift and A Kiss for Midwinter.
I own Unveiled and I think the two novellas as well. Maybe I’ll give them a try. Have you read this new book yet?
No I have not. I plan to–it’s on the TBR!
I am reading it now. It’s bland.
*sad face* Sounds like I made the right decision not to read it then… I’ve pretty given up on CM now – after so many disappointments in a row it’s going to take a lot to persuade me to read her again.
For me, there isn’t enough tension. One knows from the get go that the leads are in love and it’s so clear that they will work it out.
The writing is lovely and it’s funny but it’s just not for me although I’m only 50% of the way through. We’ll see…..
I think Rachel makes it clear in her review that it’s pretty much all fluff – which is fine if that’s what you’re into, but books like that generally don’t work for me. Sure, we all know how a romance is going to end, but I like a bit of (believable) conflict along the way.
I second that recommendation. That series was undoubtedly CM at the peak of her abilities, and the two novellas Dabney mentions below are masterclasses is How to do Novellas Right.
I am an absolute ride-or-die fan of A Kiss for Midwinter. Extraordinary blending of dark and light. Also, given Milan’s penchant for genius heroines in the Brothers Sinister series (a chess grandmaster, a geneticist, a suffragette, an astronomer), I liked that Lydia’s greatness was in her strength of character after tragedy.
I adore Lydia and Jonas.
I think my favourite of hers is Trade Me, which is not historical romance. I hope very much she’ll finish the series at some point, but even without that, that series are the books of hers that I reread.
Like Caz, I used to adore CM, but I didn’t even finish the last few books I bought of hers. Reviews have said this is a perfect book to read during this difficult time. I was thrilled–I bought it a couple of days after it came out, read the whole afternoon, and haven’t picked it up since. It doesn’t have the tension of her other books. I probably will go back to it and finish it, but I don’t think it will be my favorite. Frankly, it seems well, bland. I read an interview with her and she’s going with a new kind of tension that is not supplied by plot devices or tropes like the Big Misunderstanding. I admire CM because she’s willing to try new things and she thinks about the ethics of what she writes. I just wish she were not drifting away from her writing the kind of books I loved from her in the past.
a new kind of tension that is not supplied by plot devices or tropes like the Big Misunderstanding
Much as I dislike certain types of Big Mis, my instinctual reaction to this statement is – “Huh?” and to scratch my head as I wonder how on earth anyone can write genre fiction without using tropes?
I have to admit that from what Rachel says about the book, it does sound as though it’s a piece of fluff that’s far removed from the sort of books of hers I loved in the past (and sadly, other than the ethnicity of the protagonists, seems just like ever other fluffy HR out there right now). There’s a place for well-written fluff, but even in these difficult times, it’s not my favourite thing to read. So… yeah, I probably won’t be picking this up any time soon.
It is mostly fluff, which I don’t tend to mind if I’m in the mood for it. I loved some of her past books, but I’m not sure this series is going to be for me, considering how low on plot it is. I love character-driven books but I do want something to keep me interested other than wondering how they’re going to resolve one specific misunderstanding.
I feel very similarly – there are some fantastic character-driven romance our there where all that happens* is two people falling in love. But there still has to be some kind of conflict, something else to keep things progressing as well, to keep me interested.
* Of course it isn’t ‘all’ – but the author is careful to integrate other elements with the main love story.
Thanks for the review, Rachel. I was a massive fan of CM’s. but her last few books were such letdowns I’d decided that perhaps it was time for us to part ways. But this is encouraging :)