The Hazards of Hunting a Duke
I have yet to be disappointed in one of Julia London’s historical romances and, though her latest is not among my absolute favorites, it’s a strong read nonetheless. There are no original plot elements within its pages that I could discern, but I decided early on to sit back and enjoy an historical romance, London style, and not fault the story on its lack of imagination.
Jared Broderick, the Marquis of Middleton and heir to a dukedom, yearns to live life free of his father’s expectations. Knowing of his son’s reckless behavior, risking both life and reputation, Jared’s father insists that he settle down and perform his duty by marrying and begetting an heir. Tired of listening to Jared’s excuses, he has chosen the daughter of a dear friend with an impeccable pedigree for Jared’s future duchess. Knowing that the girl has little personality or looks, Jared refuses to marry her but begins to wonder about the wisdom of his decision when the Duke threatens to expose a part of Jared’s past.
Ava Fairchild, her sister Phoebe, and cousin Greer are eligible attractive women with hopes of someday finding love, although it is not a high priority since the wealth of the sisters’ mother provides them with a comfortable life. All that changes, however, when she dies unexpectedly and the girls’ stepfather obtains control of the family fortune. Before leaving for a trip, he cuts off their allowance, dismisses the servants, and his sister arrives to oversee the household. He leaves them with little more than a roof over their heads and food to eat and a warning that once he returns he will find a husband for each as quickly as possible, regardless of their thoughts about the match.
The girls are disgraced – the ton simply cannot find out about their reduced circumstances. Ava, their fearless leader, develops a rather ingenious plan to hire a few poorhouse residents as household staff in exchange for room and board. Phoebe is talented with the needle and supports the cause by remaking their mother’s gowns into fabulous creations for both the sisters’ use and to secretly sell for money they will use to keep them in complete style. Greer, the most interesting character of the three, takes off for Scotland to find the remnants of her family and a possible inheritance to contribute to their cause as well.
Jared first meets Ava when her clumsy partner slams her into Jared’s back during a quadrille. Her look tells him that she is more amused than mortified and he is so intrigued with her that he secures an introduction and asks for a waltz. Ava can’t dance due to a broken shoe but fails to inform him of her problem and simply turns him down, giving him an unintended direct cut in front of half of the ton. The encounter serves only to make her even more of a mystery and before the night is over Jared takes a few liberties with a willing Ava. He doesn’t see her again until the following year when he notices her while riding in Hyde Park. He can’t remember her name, but does recall her fervent response to their sultry kiss. The idea that she may be the answer to his father’s constant harping begins to take root in his mind.
Ava has given up on the idea of marrying for love and decided to find a tolerable and well-off husband before her stepfather’s return, thereby providing both Greer and Phoebe the freedom to pursue marriage at their leisure. She knows Jared Broderick is one man she could marry quite easily and, heartened by his recent attention, plans a strategy to get his attention permanently.
A marriage of convenience (which seems more like forced circumstances) seems logical to both Ava and Jared although the two never actually refer to it as such – a fact that causes many problems. Jared honestly believes that Ava can be happy with the limited attention he gives her, but in truth it only makes her want him more than ever. During this time Jared’s mistreatment of Ava is a bit heartbreaking, but ultimately he earns my sympathy rather than Ava. She progresses from sweet and self-serving to manipulative to hurt to insensible. I don’t think Jared deserved the amount of groveling that was required in the end.
London’s heroes have always been a visionary feast for me with her descriptions that shout both masculinity and refinement, but in the case of Jared, it is his sincere yet arduous effort to grow emotionally that most captured me. His development seemed real whereas Ava didn’t appear to grow all that much.
The Hazards of Hunting a Duke is the first in the Desperate Debutantes trilogy. I look forward to both Greer and Phoebe’s stories, as well as the roles I expect Jared’s companions to play in some future book. They both have potential lead stamped all over them.
Considering my on-again/off-again irritation with Ava’s actions and her lack of growth, I must admit that I enjoyed her romance with Jared primarily because I really enjoyed him. I also have to make a second admission: The Hazards of Hunting a Duke is a character driven historical romance, my absolute favorite type of romance, and is not encumbered by any suspense sub-plot. For this reader, that’s cause for celebration.