Friday, September 22, 2023

Juliana Gray - How to Tame Your Duke

Quiet and scholarly Princess Emilie has always avoided adventure, until she’s forced to disguise herself as a tutor in the household of the imposing Duke of Ashland, a former soldier disfigured in battle and abandoned by his wife. When chance draws her into a secret liaison with the duke, Emilie can't resist the opportunity to learn what lies behind his forbidding mask, and find out what adventure really means...
The duke never imagines that his son's tutor and his mysterious golden-haired beauty are one and the same. But when the true identity of his lover is laid bare, Ashland must face the demons in his past in order to safeguard both his lady - and his heart.

Comment: One more book I added for some reason I can't pinpoint now, but since the plot has some Beauty and the Beast vibes, it might have for that, I do like that trope.

In this book, we learn the three princesses of a German principality have fled their country after anarchists tried to attack them. They are helped by their British uncle, the duke of Olympia, a incisive and clever man who decides to hide them, individually, with families he trusts, while they try to investigate who is part of the anarchist group.
Emilie is the middle sister, interested in books and studying and she is placed at the house of the duke of Ashland, as tutor to his 16 year old son and disguised as a man. At first, it seems all goes according to plan, but Emilie can't help but feel fascinated by the duke, who had been in India and was hurt during those times in the military. As time passes by, they seem to become friends but one night, after a chat with a family friend with news on her sisters, she is mistaken for someone else at the inn where the duke has a rendez-vous and they start this mysterious and daring intimate relationship... the problem is the duke doesn't know Emilie is also his son's tutor... before they can even be honest with one another, a surprising attack from the anarchists must rush their decisions. Will they be able to trust one another when the truth is revealed?

The plot of this romance is completely far fetched, but nevertheless so entertaining that it was fun to read. It does seem helpful knowing, as explained by the author, where her ideas came from and which details might have had some kind of realistic base, but the sequence of events is definitely a good exercise in imagination!

The three princesses' troubles seemed serious enough to validate such a radical decision, to hide them under disguise, but at the same time it does feel like it was a bit silly. Especially since they are placed in houses of people who are unaware and then the author chooses dialogue and situations which are dealt with a bit more sexiness and comedy factors, instead of focusing on social conventions and historical accuracy. That aside, though, reading the story was very funny in a way, and the romance, well, romantic.

As soon as Emilie meets the duke and immediately can't stop thinking about him in no less than lustful ways, even though it's in her interest to stay out of sight, to be seen as invisible - thus her disguise as a male tutor instead of simply being there as her own identity - how not to guess that the tactic was intentional by her uncle, to pair her up with someone with whom she might settle with? I "guessed" this pretty early but to be fair, the author was not really hiding its possibility.

The romance was evidently fantasy-like. Even if Emilie had been a nice young woman, who would not mind the idea of an adventure pretending to be a man and one lacking means at that, her personality would still be conditioned to not act on her feelings and expectations the way it was, hiding her identity from the duke, at the same time he was hiding his. The thing is, she knew who he was all the time, and he didn't. As expected, part of the fun and the conflict, was to see how they would finally tell each other the truth. I'd say this was a bit like a missed opportunity because the duke learns the truth from an external situation, and their conversation on the subject was not as intense as it could have been.

I liked Emilie, though, her enjoyment of books, of learning obviously made her likable to me and despite some situations in which she acted in a very impulsive and silly manner, her heart and intentions were good and I was rooting for her success in winning the duke's heart and in gaining the stability and freedom to be with her sisters again. The whole drama about the principality and the politics had its interest but I confess I didn't really pay much attention to that, I mean, it was a given this would be solved somehow at some point, even if not at the conclusion of this book.

The duke is a more complex character mainly for his past and experience. There is a certain age gap between them - she is in her early 20s and he late 30s if not already 40 years old, I can't remember properly - and I expected this to be an obstacle in their relationship, perhaps even more so than his looks (consequence of the war and so on), but the biggest reason to make them apart was something else, which we discover in the middle of the book, when their feelings become more real after they become intimate. Still, the duke is one of those honorable men, a lot more adaptable than what it might seem because of his title and age.

There are plenty of silly scenes and some more annoying ones, which I thought to myself, surely there were better ways to convey certain emotions and conventions, but that was fine, I could put aside my least favorite details, because the romance is sweet and sexy, I kind of believed in the chemistry between them and was quite glad when the end comes and they get their HEA.
I wasn't as interested in the other sisters, considering the little we see of their personalities in the first chapter, but since this story was so much more appealing that what i thought, I'll absolutely read the rest of the trilogy.
Grade: 8/10

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