2000, European Historical Romance (Regency England)
Ivy, $6.99, 400 pages, Amazon ASIN 0449006360 Part of a series
I was bit worried when I started hearing all the positive word of mouth for this book, because when I had skimmed it initially, I hadn't wanted to dive right in. I was pleasantly surprised to discover The Duke definitely deserves its buzz.
Robert Knight, the Duke of Hawkscliffe, is called the Paragon Duke. Robert is so virtuous that he has only loved from afar. The Earl of Coldfell uses Robertís feelings for his late wife to exact revenge on his nephew, Dolph Breckinridge. Coldfell hints that Lady Coldfell was killed by Breckinridge, and Robert begins to hunt for evidence against the man. When he learns Breckinridge is obsessed with La Belle Hamilton, the newest star amongst Londonís courtesans, he decides to risk the scandal and offers to be her protector to push Breckinridge over the edge.
Belinda Hamilton has her own reasons for despising Breckinridge - his machinations led to the her downfall from gently-bred country lady. After enduring a rape and seeing her father imprisoned, she decides that if she is already ruined, she might as well make the most of it and goes to Hariette Wilson for lessons on how to become a courtesan. When she is approached by Robert, who wants to be her protector in name only, Bel jumps at the chance.
Even though I understood Robertís inability to get past Belís career choice, there were many times in the story when I just wanted to shake him. Robert was very frustrating, but frustrating in a lovable heroic sort of way. He is rigid in his moral standards because his mother was famous for her many lovers. Robert was forced at young age to be a father to his brothers, and his own father ingrained in him a strict sense of duty and honor. Robert has cut himself off from his passionate side and has lived his life quite alone. It is very endearing to see Robert learn to loosen up and risk his position in society by going against everything he was taught for Belís sake.
Bel is a very strong woman. Despite everything that happens, no matter how much society looks down on her, she keeps a sense of herself and develops a moral code so she can still hold her head high. Society has deemed her a fallen woman, so she decides she will become the grandest fallen woman society has ever seen. When she joins the Cyprians she makes one rule - she will not commit adultery. Every step of the way Bel sets out to earn Robertís respect, and with Robertís love she learns to respect herself again.
Even though Breckinridge is the most obvious bad guy, Iím sure many will agree that the Earl of Coldfell is the true villain of this piece, with his behind-the-scenes string-pulling and blackmail. He is offset by many delightful characters, though, that bring London of 1814 to vividly to life. Many famous historical figures make an appearance and it is easy to visualize the world of the courtesan and the political situation of the era.
I feel I should warn readers there is some violence, one scene in particular when Robert takes justice into his own hands. It didnít bother me, but then again I like historical novels that show the harshness of its reality. There is a darkness to this book. While seeing the glory of Londonís high society, we are also given a glimpse of its poorest residents and their helplessness.
Overall this is a story of hope and learning to follow oneís heart. The ending is enough to make any hopeless romantic cheer. Sadly we now have to wait until 2002 to read the sequel! Even though I didnít want to read The Duke I ended up loving every moment of it.
-- Jennifer Schendel
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