Review: Romancing The Duke by Tessa Dare

Title Romancing The Duke
Author Tessa Dare
Published January 28th, 2014 by Avon
Pages 384 Pages
Intended Target Audience Adult
Genre & Keywords Historical Romance
Part of a Series? Yes (Book 1 in the Castles Ever After series)
Source & Format Purchased from Amazon.com, eBook
Find It On GoodreadsAmazon.comChapters

As the daughter of a famed author, Isolde Ophelia Goodnight grew up on tales of brave knights and fair maidens. She never doubted romance would be in her future, too. The storybooks offered endless possibilities.

And as she grew older, Izzy crossed them off. One by one by one.

Ugly duckling turned swan?
Abducted by handsome highwayman?
Rescued from drudgery by charming prince?

No, no, and…Heh.

Now Izzy’s given up yearning for romance. She’ll settle for a roof over her head. What fairy tales are left over for an impoverished twenty-six year-old woman who’s never even been kissed?

This one.

“But she’d never been hopeless.
Not yet.
Not quite.
Because the name Isolde Ophelia Goodnight also suggested romance. Swooning, star-crossed, legendary romance. And for as long as she could remember, Izzy had been waiting – with dwindling faith and increasing impatience – for that part of her life to begin.”

With a name like Isolde Ophelia Goodnight, Izzy has always imagined that she was destined for great things. Unfortunately, as a now plain, unmarried twenty-six-year-old women who has never even been kissed, her life seems more akin to a comic tragedy than to the romantic fairytales she once dreamt about as a little girl. Penniless, parentless and now homeless following the sudden and untimely loss of her father to apoplexy, Izzy scarcely has two shillings to rub together and finds herself in desperate straights. That is, until she receives an unexpected letter informing her that she has been left a bequest by her father’s patron, the late Earl of Lynford. Her inheritance? Gostley Castle in the middle of ‘Nowhere, Northumberland’, once the seat of the Rothbury Dukedom. When she arrives at her new home, however, where she once expected turrets and ramparts, parapets and parks, Izzy is instead greeted with something far more magnificent and unexpected: The imposing figure of Ransom William Dacre Vane, the eleventh Duke of Rothbury, whose dark beauty stops Izzy dead in her tracks, despite the scar that mars the right side of his face. But when Ransom refuses to give up possession of his ancestral home, the two find themselves in an untenable stalemate, neither willing to concede defeat or relinquish a property that means the world to them, despite a troubling abundance of bats and an absence of windows. Ransom quickly becomes determined to figure out how they found themselves in their current predicament and enlists Izzy’s help by employing her as his secretary. Tasked with getting to the bottom of Ransom’s ever-growing mountain of correspondence, which has gone unread since the duel that left Ransom almost entirely blind, Izzy and Ransom form an unlikely partnership and, along with the help of the local kind-hearted vicar’s daughter and a band of merry Moranglians, embark on a mission to discover the truth, all while trying desperately not to fall in love with one another. After all, the course of true love never did run smooth.

“Well,” Izzy ventured to remark, some minutes into the tense silence Lord Archer had left behind, “this is an awkward situation.”
“Awkward?” The duke paced the floor, swinging his arms at his sides. Then he stopped in his tracks and said it again. “Awkward.”
The word rang through the great hall, bouncing off the ceiling vaults.
Izzy just stood there. Awkwardly.
“Adolescence,” he said, “is awkward. Attending a past lover’s wedding is awkward. Making love on horseback is awkward.”
She was in agreement, so far as the first part. She’d have to take his word on it when it came to the second and third.”

I don’t discuss it very often on Pop! Goes The Reader, but I absolutely adore the historical romance genre. What can I say? I have a weakness for a well-written love story that ends in a satisfying ‘happily ever after’. And if there’s one author whose work in this genre I simply can’t enough of, it’s Tessa Dare’s. I’ve long been a fan of Ms. Dare’s work, ever since devouring the first four novels in her Spindle Cove series back in 2012. What’s that? You’re unfamiliar with this series? I have two words for you: Exploding sheep. Do I have your attention yet? The first novel in Dare’s charming, quirky Spindle Cove series has the distinction of featuring one of the most memorable scenes I’ve ever encountered in any genre and I would strongly suggest you take the time to familiarize yourself with Dare’s delightful back catalogue of work. Immediately. Go on. I’ll wait here.

“The girl crumpled to the flagstones with a wet thud.
Ransom winced at the irony. Despite all that had happened, he still had the ladies swooning. One way or another.”

Okay. You’re back? Then let’s move on. Given all of the above, it should come as little surprise that I was practically beside myself when I learned that Ms. Dare was set to release the first novel in a new series, Castles Ever After, in January of 2014. After pre-ordering Romancing The Duke in short order I spent the next couple of months pacing the floor, wringing my hands, and imaging what this novel might hold in store for me. So, was the wait worth it? You bet it was! Having now finished Romancing The Duke, I can safely say that not only has Tessa Dare solidified her place as one of my favourite, most reliable historical romance novelists, but she has also convinced me that she might be a miracle worker as well. Prior to completing Romancing The Duke I was in the midst of one of the worst reading slumps in recent memory, having not completed a novel in close to two weeks. From the instant I started this captivating installment in Dare’s promising new series, however, my attention was immediately enthralled and I could not stop reading until I finished it in a single sitting. From the two charismatic, enchanting lead characters to the charming combination of sensuality and humour throughout, it is impossible not to fall in love with Tessa Dare’s Romancing The Duke. This is one novel that you absolutely will not want to miss.

“To be sure, bats didn’t normally get caught in people’s hair. But he’d forgotten, hers wasn’t normal hair. This curly mane of hers could snare a rabbit. Perhaps a horse.
Ransom worried, as he plunged his fingers into her dense, wavy locks, that this hair could possible ensnare him.”

The titular character in England’s nationally-recognized and beloved series of stories, The Goodnight Tales, Isolde ‘Izzy’ Ophelia Goodnight is a woman who feels she owes as much to the public as she does to herself. In spite of the popularity of these tales of gallant knights and chivalrous love, however, Izzy and her father have spent the majority of their lives in relative poverty, often relying on bizarre gifts and the support of their eclectic group of fans in order to get by. As a consequence of this, out of necessity Izzy was forced long ago to learn to temper her expectations and quickly adapt to almost any situation, no matter how challenging the circumstances. This tenacity and determination in the face of often unimaginable opposition was one of the (many) things that drew me to Dare’s latest, and perhaps most lovable, protagonist. Unfortunately, no amount of resolve will help Izzy conquer her greatest challenge of all: Her preoccupation with the public’s perception and the pressure to meet their expectations. Despite her advancing years and conflicted feelings on the subject, the one thing that Izzy has been unable to escape is the pressure to please others and continue to perpetuate the portrayal of herself as put forth in The Goodnight Tales. Known more simply as ‘Little Izzy Goodnight’ to the adoring and dedicated fans of the series, Izzy is continually infantalized and feels pressured to subordinate her own desires so as not to shatter the carefully crafted allusion of the innocent child in these cherished stories. With Ransom, however, who has never read The Goodnight Tales and is wholly unfamiliar with the mythos surrounding Izzy’s fictional, childhood counterpart, Izzy is finally granted a freedom perviously unknown to her. Unencumbered by the preconceptions and expectations of others, Izzy is able, for the first time, to explore her true wants and desires without fear of reprisal or tarnishing her father’s legacy. These scenes in which Izzy was able to vocalize what she wanted most were both endearing and immensely empowering. Despite the social mores of the time period in which this novel is set, in Izzy Dare has crafted a feminist icon who makes the best of any situation and is unafraid to flout conventional wisdom and do what is best for her, regardless of the consequences.

“There were things in nature that took their beauty from delicate structure and intricate symmetry. Flowers. Seashells. Butterfly wings. And then there were things that were beautiful for their wild power and their refusal to be tamed. Snowcapped mountains. Churning thunderclouds. Shaggy, sharp-toothed lions.
The man silhouetted before her? He belonged, quite solidly, in the latter category.
So did the wolf sitting at his heel.
It couldn’t be a wolf, she told herself. It had to be some sort of dog. Wolves had long been hunted to extinction. The last one in England died ages ago.
But then…she would have thought they’d stopped making men like this, too.”

I’ll be the first to admit that all too often, the male lead in a historical romance story will either make or break my overall experience. For example, I don’t take too kindly to heroes who fail to understand the meaning of the word ‘no’ or who run roughshod over the heroine, disregarding her feelings entirely. Thankfully, while Ransom can be short, demanding and brutish, it quickly becomes clear that his bark is far worse than his bite. Ransom’s brusque behaviour is primarily employed as a defense mechanism against what he perceives as inevitable rejection. Having cast himself into self-imposed exile following the demise of a prior engagement and a duel that left him permanently scarred and almost entirely blind, Ransom has retreated to the safety and comforting familiarity of Gostley Castle. After pacing the rooms and corridors for days and even weeks on end, Ransom has ensconced himself in a place where he feels entirely at home where even the smallest crack and crevice is not unknown to him. Also suffering from feelings of guilt and culpability in the death of his mother immediately following childbirth, Ransom is interested in little apart from nursing his wounded pride in peace, and is certainly unwilling, or unable, to accept the help of others, particularly that of the meddlesome and often all-too-keen Izzy, who awakens something in Ransom that he thought long dormant.

I make a very good pancake.
Appalling.
What was even more appalling was that Ransom found himself suddenly hungry for a very good pancake. Starving. Ravenous. Damn it, he was faint with yearning for a very good pancake.
Any self-respecting rake had two kinds of women in his life: those he took to bed at night and those who made him a pancake in the morning. If he suddenly wanted both from the same women, it was a warning flag. One big and red enough for even a blind man to see.
Get out now. The threat is coming from inside the castle.”

Romancing The Duke posed one of the best sort of challenges a book blogger can ever hope to encounter while reading and reviewing a book. Tessa Dare’s writing is so enchanting, so lovely, and so profoundly funny, that I was faced with the almost impossible task of having to select only a handful of quotations to highlight in this review, when in truth I would have loved nothing more than to compose a document made up of nothing but. The sheer abundance of choice was overwhelming, thanks in large part to the author’s ability to provide her readers with an embarrassment of riches when it comes to quotable, memorable dialogue and prose. There is little I enjoy more than a romance with a large dose of humour, and few authors have mastered this art more than Tessa Dare. There’s an effervescent wit to the author’s writing that makes her work nothing short of an absolute joy to read. Putting this aside for a moment, perhaps what I found most interesting (and inspiring) about Romancing The Duke was not the wonderful humour, which I’ve come to expect from Dare and perceive as one of the (many) tools in this author’s arsenal, but rather the manner in which Dare skillfully incorporates recognizable fairytale tropes throughout the course of the narrative that perfected parallel The Goodnight Tales around which Izzy’s life has always centered. There’s something both fanciful and familiar about the narrative arc of Romancing The Duke that allowed me to instantly respond to it. Yet for all the familiarity of Izzy and Ransom’s story and the nostalgia it can’t help but evoke for those of us familiar with this sort of story from our own childhood, Dare still manages to put a unique twist on what might otherwise have proven a familiar formula for the ‘beauty and the beast’ archetype.

“Perhaps someone is just playing tricks on us.”
“It’s certainly possible.” Miss Pelham reached for her dressing gown. “I wouldn’t put it past the duke. No doubt he wants to lure us out of our bedchambers in our shifts. Be sure to close your dressing gown with a very tight knot.”
“He’s blind. How would he be able to tell?”
“He’d be able to tell.”
Yes, Izzy supposed he would.”

The secondary characters were as delightful and unorthodox as their lead counterparts, none more so than the local vicar’s daughter, Abigail Pelham. In the hands of a less imaginative author, Miss Pelham would have immediately been cast in the role of the romantic rival, whose beauty and kind-hearted ministrations were merely a facade meant to ensnare the Duke’s affections at the moment when he was most vulnerable. Thankfully, Dare’s work has never been what one could consider ordinary or predictable. While I won’t delve too deeply into this particular aspect of the story for fear of spoilers, I was quite happy to have my doubts and fears about this aspect of the novel proven futile. Admittedly, there were a handful of historical anachronisms scattered throughout the text, which were evident in both the character’s dialogue as well as in their thoughts and action, but none so serious that they in any way detracted from my enjoyment of the story. Frankly, strict historical accuracy is not of great importance when it comes to my enjoyment of this particular genre. That said, I do understand that this can be a sticking point for some readers, and thought it bore mentioning.

“And then, in the space of a second, he understood it. He understood the reason he’d walked this castle every night in the dark. Learning the length and breath of every room, arch, corridor and stair. It wasn’t about regaining his strength or mastering the space that was now his home and prison. He’d done it all for one purpose:
So he could get to her.”

Doubt not the beauty of this novel’s prose, the quickness of the author’s wit, or the romance and passion that blossoms between the two lead characters. Doubt not that you will be kept awake until 3:00am, desperate to find out what happens next and unable to put down the book until you do so. In short? Doubt not that Romancing The Duke will provide one of the best and most enjoyable reading experiences you’ll have all year. Now, I insist that you begin reading this novel post-haste, lest I be forced to ‘release the ermine’ on you! Don’t know what I’m talking about? Pick up Romancing The Duke today and you soon will. I promise that you won’t regret it!

Overall Rating

Still not sure this is the right book for you? Why not listen to what some other bloggers had to say about it?

● Sarah @ Smart Bitches, Trashy Books wrote “I think this is a truly unique historical that will appeal to readers who aren’t often historical fans.” (Read the rest of the review Here!)

● May @ Smexy Books wrote “I could continue to share with you quotes that are tender, dirty, funny, or a combination of the three. I could carry on telling you all the reasons I love this story. I’m not going to though, because I think this is one you need to read for yourself.” (Read the rest of the review Here!)

● Rita @ Not Another Romance Blog wrote “This is an incredible read and astounding way to start off what will probably be yet another successful book series filled with characters and stories that’ll stick with me long after the happily ever after.” (Read the rest of the review Here!)

4 responses to “Review: Romancing The Duke by Tessa Dare”

  1. This was the first Tessa Dare book I read, and what a book to start with! I loved it so much, and it’s probably my favorite of all the ones I’ve read so far (I’ve read three Spindle Cove books, and the one about Dancing with a Duke at Midnight – that’s not the title, but I can’t remember it right now).

    There was something so utterly lovable and charming and relatable about Izzy.I saw myself in her so much . . . now if I could just find a good looking guy, things would be even better 🙂 He doesn’t have to be a Duke.
    Quinn @ Quinn’s Book Nook recently posted…Review: Touch of Frost by Jennifer EstepMy Profile

  2. Dione says:

    I just finished this a couple weeks ago and loved it. Light, funny, sweet, romantic. It was my first Tessa Dare read and I likely will check out more. I’m looking forward to the next Castles book.

  3. Alexa S. says:

    One of my all-time favorite historical romances (A Week to Be Wicked) is also written by Tessa Dare. Her stories are fun to read, filled with humor and heart. I haven’t yet finished reading all of the Spindle Cove novels, but I have read her Stud Club series and enjoyed those as well.

    HOWEVER, I am sorely tempted to just skip ahead and read ROMANCING THE DUKE because you make such a wonderful case for it in this review. I’m already charmed by the hero and heroine, interested in the story and wondering how everyone will get their happily ever after. Wonderful job, Jen!
    Alexa S. recently posted…The Lavender Garden – Lucinda Riley (Review)My Profile

  4. HI, so I know this review is dead old and so this comment will be a bit random, but I just wanted to say thank you for writing a review about it.

    I remember seeing this review when you initially posted it and I was surprised to see you reviewing a historical romance novel and then I probably disregarded it. Then I saw this book on offer and impulse bought it. I was sure someone had reviewed it before and said good things.

    I’m essentially a newbie to historical romance, read a few books but can’t claim to be well read in the genre, so when I see a good review about a book I know I should give it a chance. I am just so grateful you posted about this one because I wouldn’t have read it otherwise, and then I would be missing out. It was such a fun read. Considering I’ve only read a few books in the genre, even I could tell Dare doesn’t go the typical route. She always has an individual take on things that could easily be stale and predictable.

    Basically, thank you for the positive review and good recommendation. It was nice to see a review on something different.
    Becky @ A Fool’s Ingenuity recently posted…Sisterhood of the World Book Bloggers Tag!My Profile

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