A Duke to Remember by Kelly Bowen

This RITA® Reader Challenge 2017 review was written by Truusje. This story was nominated for the RITA® in the Short Historical category.

The summary:

Love takes the stage…

Elise deVries is not what she seems. By night, the actress captivates London theatergoers with her chameleon-like ability to slip inside her characters. By day, she uses her mastery of disguise to work undercover for Chegarre & Associates, an elite agency known for its discreet handling of indelicate scandals. But when Elise is tasked with locating the missing Duke of Ashland, she finds herself center stage in a real-life drama.

Noah Ellery left the glamour of the London aristocracy to pursue a simpler life in the country. He’s managed to avoid any complications or entanglements—that is, until he lays eyes on Elise and realizes there’s more to this beautiful woman than meets the eye. But when Elise reveals her real identity—and her true feelings for him—the runaway duke must confront the past he left behind . . . to keep the woman he loves forever.

Here is Truusje’s review:

I love historical romance but I’m growing a little tired of the traditional Regency stories where an innocent-but-plucky heroine can be found waltzing indecently close to a ready-to-be-reformed rake. So I was happy to see that A Duke To Remember doesn’t start in a ballroom but in Bedlam where we meet our heroine, Elise DeVries. Elise is a part-time actress, part-time private investigator/problem solver/tracker, and has been hired to rescue the Duchess of Ashland who has ended up in Bedlam after the death of her husband. The Duchess’s nephew, Francis, thinks he should be the next Duke as no one has seen or heard from Noah, the Duke and Duchess’s only son, from the age of 10. When the Duchess started telling people Noah is still alive, Francis silenced her by sending her to Bedlam. Now it’s up to Elise to find Noah, convince him to go to London as the rightful Duke, and rescue his mother.

I always find it refreshing when an author pushes the boundaries of a genre, so I was hooked immediately. The book has lots of fabulousness that I’d love to talk about now. However, it has some clear weaknesses as well, and I think they need to be addressed first as they are essential to story.

Let’s start with the plot. In order to find Noah, Elise follows her sole lead and travels to Nottingham. Of course, the first person she meets happens to be the man she’s looking for. And of course he’s hot and handsome, so of course they’re lusting after each other immediately. While I don’t mind waiting a few chapters for Elise and Noah to lay eyes on each other, I feel the way they meet is too coincidental and their attraction too instantaneous. The transition from lust to love is just as quick. I don’t think it takes much longer than 24 hours before Noah realises he’s experiencing more than physical attraction and that he’s actually in love with her. This is just too fast in my opinion.

The suspense subplot involving evil Francis doesn’t really work for me either. Some chapters are written from his point of view so there isn’t a single surprise. Yet the threat he poses is pretty much ignored for large parts of the book. For me this entire subplot is weak and predictable.

I have some problems with Elise as well. Though I love how much she and Noah talk, especially about difficult topics, I also feel she is a little too wise and too understanding. Noah’s past is tragic and related to speaking problems as a child. Even now he occasionally mixes up his words. His past is still a major issue for him, and when they talk for example about his speaking problems, Elise comes up with a long list of her own flaws to put things in perspective. She says the right things without thinking, and never gets it wrong. She is just so perceptive and supportive, and perfection is never an interesting character trait in my opinion.

This doesn’t mean Elise is entirely without flaws; she slips different personas on and off to such an extent she doesn’t really know who she is anymore. I like how they both struggle with their identities, but where Noah clearly grows I don’t quite see the same change in Elise. I think it’s partly because we don’t see all the aspects of her life. For example, we’re told she’s a part-time actress but we never encounter her onstage. To me, Noah is a more real and more complex character than Elise.

While Elise provides one of the key weaknesses of the book, she is also responsible
for setting it apart from traditional Regency romances in the best possible way. She is not just wise and understanding, but also strong and very capable. You could even call her the hero of the story, as she shares some characteristics of a typical Regency hero: she has a magnificent horse, she’s a great shot, and she teaches Noah how to swim. Of course she has a past, but we only find out about some of it. We also know she isn’t a virgin, but this doesn’t define her. Better yet, it isn’t even part of the story.

Similarly, we don’t find out all the details of Noah’s past. We never discover for example how he ended up in Nottingham; it’s enough to know it happened and that it means he’s willing to help others. So often in books everything is spelled out and every little thread comes together, and I love that here only the parts relevant to the story are told.

There are so many brilliant details in this book. For example, when Elise figures out that she’s found Noah, she tells him almost immediately. While he is angry with her at first, it’s never a point of conflict between them. And I just love that there isn’t a scene between Noah and his mother in which she comes up with excuses for her role in his tragic past and begs for forgiveness. Noah refuses to see his mother because he isn’t ready and that is just fine. Real life is messy and difficult, and I love it when books reflect that.

Whenever an author ventures off the beaten track to bring something new and fresh to a genre, I just want to pop the champagne and have a little party. In this case, I’m a little disappointed because A Duke To Remember has fundamental flaws that almost overshadow all that’s wonderful. Nevertheless, it is a good historical romance that’s different from most others, and though I’m leaving the champagne in the fridge for now, I’m definitely going to read more Kelly Bowen.

This book is available from:
A Duke to Remember by Kelly Bowen

July 26, 2016

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