The Trouble with Dukes
Grace Burrowes’ The Trouble with Dukes sees her returning to the extended Windham family, who were the subject of her first published works. The Windham Brides series introduces the four nieces of the Duke and Duchess of Moreland while also reacquainting readers with the various other family members whose stories were told previously.
I suspect a reader’s level of enjoyment of this book may largely depend on their degree of familiarity with the various characters who inhabit “Burrowesworld” (a useful term coined by a friend of mine), as the author tends to put her existing characters to good use by moving them from book to book and series to series. If she needs a dashing former cavalry officer for some reason, why invent a new one when she’s already invented Devlin St. Just? Or if she needs a lordly musician, why not just call Valentine Windham into service? For someone like me, who has read – and enjoyed – a good proportion of Ms. Burrowes’ books, this doesn’t present a problem. I like meeting familiar faces and watching how they all relate and interact with each other and with the newly introduced characters in any given book. But for someone completely new to the author’s work, it could all prove somewhat overwhelming and a bit of homework might be in order.
On the other hand, the story is self-contained, so there are no threads picked up from other books or plotlines left hanging to be resolved in future ones. And if you’re prepared to just accept that all these secondary characters – many of whom, like Westhaven, St. Just, Keswick and Moreland have more than just a cameo role to play – are family members and then go along for the ride, then I’m sure it’s possible to enjoy the book without having read any of the others. But to be completely honest, the plot of the novel is actually very slight, and the principal enjoyment of reading it comes from the well-written, affectionate familial relationships and friendships, something at which Ms. Burrowes always excels and to which I look forward each time I pick up one of her books.
Megan Windham is the third of the four sisters, all of whom are independent, intelligent young ladies with varying shades of red hair. Megan is fairly quiet and bookish; and when we first meet her, she is being importuned by Sir Fletcher Pilkington, a handsome young gentleman with aspirations to her hand. It’s quickly apparent that Megan wants nothing to do with him and that all he really wants is her dowry so he can pay off his debts and continue to life the high life. She is rescued from his unwanted attentions by a large, imposing man with dark auburn hair and piercing blue eyes – whom Sir Fletcher introduces as a former fellow officer, Colonel Hamish MacHugh.
MacHugh has recently become Duke of Murdoch and has come to London to see to all the legalities pertaining to his inheritance. He has also escorted his sisters to town so that they can take part in the Season, but he has no patience with the intricacies of society and feels completely adrift in the ballrooms and drawing rooms of the ton, so his plan is to decamp back to Scotland at the earliest opportunity. Yet if anything could tempt him to stay, it would be the lovely and intriguing Miss Windham, whom he senses is burdened by troubles that relate to Sir Fletcher, a man Hamish knows to be vicious, vain and unscrupulous.
Hamish’s suspicions about the true nature of Megan’s feelings for her suitor are correct. She loathes him and lives in dread of his gaining consent to their engagement. The problem is that telling her parents – or her strapping, protective Windham cousins – of the reason behind her dislike will risk her reputation and that of her sisters, and she is not prepared to ruin their standing in society because a youthful infatuation led her to believe herself in love with the scoundrel, and to write him a number of passionately improper letters – letters he is now using in order to blackmail her into marriage.
Megan is immediately attracted to her rescuer, who is kind and honourable and who listens to her without criticism or judgement. She feels valued and comfortable for the first time in ages and quickly finds herself trusting him enough to confide in him and ask for his help, which he gives readily. But Hamish has troubles of his own. He is haunted by decisions and actions made while serving on the Peninsula, and gossip about his propensity for violence and insubordination has led to his being dubbed the ‘Duke of Murder’. To make things worse, when Sir Fletcher sees which way the wind is blowing, he does his best to blacken Hamish’s name even further in his quest to become Megan’s accepted suitor while at the same time resorting to seriously underhand methods to sustain his expensive lifestyle.
That’s basically the plot – Hamish helps to remove the threat to Megan’s reputation and happiness and in return, she helps him to learn to polish his manners and learn some societal niceties so that he won’t feel quite so awkward amongst the ton. Along the way, of course, the pair develops a strong emotional attachment, and Hamish discovers the benefit of having true friends in the form of Megan’s formidable cousins and cousins-in-law. Their witty banter and the subsequent friendships that develop between the men are a sure sign that Hamish is going to fit right in, and give Grace Burrowes the opportunity to showcase her talent for writing strong male relationships.
My one quibble in this area, though, is that those relationships come very close to eclipsing the romance, which proceeds gently and without any over-played drama. Megan and Hamish are likeable, sensible characters, and I enjoyed watching both of them gradually returning to being their true selves and drawing strength from each other as they fell in love. But Megan confides her troubles to Hamish a little too quickly, and while he’s a trustworthy chap and I could understand her reasons for not wanting to tell her cousins of her dilemma, it nonetheless seems to happen a little too fast. And then there’s the issue of Megan’s parents taking an extended trip (to Wales) right in the middle of the Season even though they believe Megan is about to receive an offer of marriage – to which her father will have to give his consent. Their absence at a crucial time doesn’t make sense and feels like an obvious plot device so as to allow time for Megan and Hamish to spend time together while making sure that Sir Fletcher cannot make his proposal.
Those criticisms aside however, The Trouble with Dukes is a sweetly romantic tale featuring two engaging, well-matched protagonists. Readers familiar with the author’s work will appreciate her quirky writing style and sense of humour and those who aren’t will, I hope, find much to enjoy.