Here are my three favorite historicals released in April! My reviews for Caroline Linden’s All the Duke I Need and Grace Burrowes’s Never a Duke are below—for my review of Janna MacGregor’s Rules for Engaging the Earl, see the post below this one.
Grace Burrowes’s Never a Duke
Never a Duke was my first Grace Burrowes! I have long heard of her work and so I was excited to finally sit down with one of her novels. Overall, I was very intrigued by her style of narration. Her writing is more formal and restrained than usual for a historical romance and I found the effect to be quite compelling. To give an example of what I mean here, in several parts of the book, the heroine reveals a secret to the hero that, in the hands of other writers, would be the source of much internal agony. Instead, here, the reader doesn’t even know about these parts of her past before Rosalind speaks them aloud in the moment of confession. I found the effect refreshing, particularly in a heroine…I liked that Lady Rosalind has her priorities straight and isn’t unduly worried about past indiscretions or circumstances beyond her control.
This book is the last in the Wentworth series (I believe) and while I noted that it must be later in the series as I was reading, it didn’t stop me from understanding or enjoying the novel. I was particularly fond of the hero, Ned Wentworth, who began life as the son of a tailor, briefly became a child convict in Newgate prison after the ruin of his family, and then rose to manage the bank owned by Quinton Wentworth, Duke of Walden. Ned was so sensitive and good-hearted, he just really got me—his past did weigh on him, but not in a way that I found to be unwarranted, and it was lovely to see him let go with Rosalind. Burrowes does a great job showing how Rosalind, with her matter-of-fact perspective on life, takes Ned’s childhood trauma seriously but, at the same time, helps him move past it. And, with Ned, Rosalind finds a man reflexively kind and considerate—he is the opposite of her entitled, villainous father and brothers. Rosalind has been hungering for someone to respect her thoughts and opinions—and Ned fulfills that desire with such steadfast care. It is really touching to see!
Never a Duke also contains a significant mystery plot, which I enjoyed watching unravel. To this point, I found this book to fall more towards the realist side of the historical romance spectrum. I don’t like to talk about historical “accuracy” because I think it is a bit reductive. What might have been historically accurate for one person or group might not have been for another—I think, when it comes to historicals, we should talk less about accuracy and inaccuracy and more about the approach to the historical setting. Is the author depicting the period as historians describe and understand it? Or are they approaching the setting more as a fantasy author would, taking elements of the period to create a distinct, self-sustaining world? Any historical romance is going to employ some of both approaches—it is just inevitable. And I think that most contemporary historicals tend to hew towards the middle of this spectrum—part realist, part fantasy. I enjoy romances all along this spectrum—and I certainly don’t think one approach is better than the other. Grace Burrowes notably falls towards the realist side, however, and I did appreciate how she captures the brutality of this historical period. Early nineteenth-century London was a ruthless environment and Burrowes uses this backdrop to inject a lot of tension and passion into Ned and Rosalind’s love story.
I really liked Never a Duke! I especially recommend it to readers who enjoy historicals that fall on the more realist side of the spectrum and want to see the gritty aspects of early nineteenth-century London.
Caroline Linden’s All the Duke I Need
I am a huge fan of the first book in this series, About a Rogue, so I was excited to read All the Duke I Need and it did not disappoint. I missed the second book in the series, A Scot to the Heart, but I wasn’t lost at all—although I do think it enhanced the experience that I had read book #1. This series is really an epic and you can feel that in All the Duke I Need. Even though the book is still an intimate and intense romance, the stakes feel bigger than the central relationship between Will and Phillipa. I found myself caring about the entire Carlyle family. Due to her heartbreak over the deaths of her children and her strength in the face of adversity, the duchess, the formidable dowager who has been searching for the right heir since book #1, is an inherently sympathetic character. And the duke, her son, who was disabled in an accident thirty years ago before the events of the book, is a rich character as well. When the duke regains some of his old vivacity in Will’s company, he reveals that he is more perceptive than his family gives him credit for. All the Duke I Need is not just a pleasurable read for the central romance, but for the entire cast of characters.
When reading this book, I found myself thinking about why historicals feature so many aristocratic families and why these books have such a draw. I know that some historical fans feel aristocrat fatigue—when I’ve asked on Instagram what readers would like to see more of in the genre, several people have said that they want more working-class and non-aristocratic characters. I share this desire, too, but I was reminded in reading this book why aristocratic families can be so appealing to readers. In this book, the Duchess of Carlyle has a portrait of herself and her children that she keeps in her personal sitting room—it ends up having a big role in solving the mystery at the center of the novel. When I was reading Linden’s description of this portrait, I realized how this image, within the text, memorializes and gives dignity to the family life of the original Carlyle unit. Because they are aristocrats, they get the privilege of such an image—but, nevertheless, the portrait, as a symbol to the reader, elevates the importance of family life, any family life, more generally. To me, this elevation is the appeal of the aristocratic family. For most people, their family members (biological or otherwise) are inherently important to them and so the exalted station of aristocratic families in books can serve as a metaphor for this emotional prominence. The heightened stakes attached to the fates of aristocratic families (many people rely on a dukedom, etc.) can serve as a metaphorical stand-in for the emotional importance of family writ large. This metaphor is particularly applicable, I think, in novels such as All the Duke I Need that hinge on families losing and then finding one another again. Finding the heir is, of course, also finding the long-lost son, grandson, etc., and opens onto the more universal experiences of trying to recover and restore family relationships after tragedy, separation, splintering of all types.
Okay, but enough theorizing, what about the romance?!?! I really enjoyed the connection between Philippa and Will. Linden gives us a bit of a slow burn here, but I didn’t even mind. These two truly get a chance to get to know one another and so their falling in love feels very authentic. You could see how their prior experiences really made them a match—for instance, they both come from multicultural families. Will’s father is English and his mother is French; he spoke French at home even though he grew up in the U.S. Conversely, Philippa’s mother was Indian and her father was English—her mother died when she was young and her father remarried Lady Jessica, the Duchess of Carlyle’s only daughter, when Philippa was about three years old. Due to her father’s marriage, Philippa has spent her entire life within the aristocratic English environs of the Carlyle estate, but she still has strong ties to her mother’s family in India and Indian culture. Therefore, both Will and Philippa are used to living across cultures and so, from the beginning, you can see why they will have an understanding of each other’s experiences and are able to foster a connection. I also really appreciated how forthright Philippa becomes about her love for Will. Sometimes, heroines are too prone to feel rejected for my taste, and I liked that Philippa doesn’t let Will get in the way of their mutual happiness.
Overall, I recommend All the Duke I Need, particularly if you love historicals with rich world-building and a substantive sense of character and setting!