What a Difference a Duke Makes
I have to admit to being a little skeptical before starting What a Difference a Duke Makes, the first book in Lenora Bell’s School for Dukes series. Several of my fellow reviewers here at AAR have reviewed Ms. Bell’s books in the past, and none of them were impressed, so I wasn’t at all sure what I was in for. I’m pleased to say though that this book ended up being quite a pleasant surprise, and it’s inspired me to check out more of this author’s work.
London hasn’t been kind to twenty-year-old Miss Mari Perkins. She’s only been in the city a couple of hours, and she’s already had her possessions stolen and the post she was promised as governess to a brood of children given to another applicant. She’s completely without resources and unsure of where to turn. She could go back to the orphanage where she was raised and possibly be hired on as a teacher, but she hates the thought of returning there in defeat and having to beg the austere headmistress to give her a job. Fortunately, Mari overhears two women discussing the Duke of Banksford and his unruly twins who have managed to scare off quite a few highly-trained governesses – and she decides to apply for the position. From the sound of things, it won’t be easy, but Mari knows how to handle difficult children, so she figures it’s worth a shot. After all, anything is better than going back to the country.
Edgar Rochester may be a duke and therefore one of the most powerful men in all of England, but the nine-year-old twins he’s only recently discovered he fathered are a complete and utter mystery to him. Up until a few months ago, they’d been raised in France by their mother, a woman Edgar hasn’t heard from in years. When she committed suicide, the twins were brought to England by their nurse, and Edgar has been struggling to do right by them ever since, but the children aren’t making it easy for him. They run away constantly, and several governesses and nurses have deemed them incorrigible. Edgar is now at the end of his rope, desperate for someone to come along and take his son and daughter in hand.
When Mari shows up on his doorstep, claiming to be the latest governess sent by a prominent agency, Edgar is at first skeptical of her ability to manage the twins. In his opinion, she’s too young, too soft-spoken, and far too pretty to be an effective governess. The fact that he’s attracted to her doesn’t help matters in the slightest. Long ago, Edgar made a vow to himself not to take advantage of those in his employ. His father was a tyrant who constantly forced himself on the female servants, and Edgar is determined to be nothing like him, so a pretty young governess is a complication he simply doesn’t need. Desperate times call for desperate measures though, and Edgar reluctantly agrees to hire Mari on for a trial period of one week.
Mari is wonderful with the twins. She reminded me a lot of Mary Poppins, a fact that made me smile. She doesn’t change their behavior overnight, but she does make them feel listened to and respected, and this goes a long way toward helping them settle into their new home. She’s fun-loving and witty, the children find an ally in her, and slowly, Edgar himself begins to view her in a very favorable light.
As time passes, Edgar and Mari begin spending quite a bit of time together. She wants him to really get to know his children, so she comes up with all manner of schemes to persuade him to spend time in their company, but it’s not the children’s company Edgar is coming to enjoy, or, at least, not just their company. There’s something about Mari that he finds irresistible, even though acting on his feelings goes against his very strict code of conduct. Slowly though, he begins to realize the life he’s made for himself isn’t enough to make him happy, and he begins entertaining the idea of a long-term relationship with Mari.
As you might suppose, there are quite a few barriers to a relationship between Edgar and Mari. For one, he’s a duke and she’s a governess. Plus, Mari’s past is a complete mystery to her. She hopes that being in London will give her the opportunity to follow up on a few leads she has concerning her parentage, but she’s reluctant to tell Edgar anything about this, fearing he’ll turn away from her if he learns just how different their backgrounds are. Fortunately, these obstacles are overcome, and while the resolution isn’t entirely realistic, it’s believable enough not to negatively impact my overall enjoyment of the story.
There is, however, one plot point I found really difficult to swallow. Edgar supposedly walked away from his birthright several years before our story opens and spent time working in a factory far from London. Now, even though he’s inherited the title, he still continues his factory work. He’s set on inventing a light-weight fire engine, and most of his time and energy are taken up with his invention. I found it hard to believe that a member of the nobility would behave in such a manner, and that the rest of society wouldn’t look down on him for his actions.
In spite of this, I found What a Difference a Duke Makes to be a delightfully light-hearted and enjoyable story. The principals have great chemistry, and the children add a lovely element of whimsy to the novel. I laughed out loud on several occasions, and also felt myself tearing up a time or two.
I definitely plan on picking up the next book in this series when it comes out later this year. It looks like an enemies-to-lovers romance featuring Edgar’s sister India. I liked her a lot in this book, so I’m eager to read her story. I hope it’s as much fun as this one turned out to be.