June 2008, European Historical Romance (Regency England)
Avon, $7.99, 384 pages, Amazon ASIN 0060876107 Part of a series
With The Lost Duke of Wyndham, Julia Quinn kicks off a two-book set of intertwined stories, each covering the same time period through the eyes of two possible dukes. The hero of each book has reason to believe he is truly the Duke of Wyndham, but one will have to accustom himself to a life without the title. With a mix of humor and deep emotion, the series starts off with what has probably been my favorite read of the year so far.
Grace Eversleigh has seen her life change dramatically from what she thought was a secure place among the local gentry to living as the much put-upon companion to the dowager Duchess of Wyndham, a woman who is overbearing, arrogant, snobbish, and not terribly understanding of her companion. Still, Grace feels a certain gratitude to her employer and also has few other choices open to her.
An existence in which the best she can hope for is to tolerate the rest of her days changes one night as she and the Duchess find themselves taken prisoner by an armed highwayman. The highwayman, who is uncommonly charming for a road bandit, manages to intrigue Grace. His effect on the dowager is even more startling: She is convinced that the man must be somehow related to her favorite son, who died almost 30 years before.
So convinced is the Duchess that this highwayman must belong to her family, she hatches a scheme to kidnap him. Though the highwayman insists he is merely Jack Audley, the Duchess sweeps him off to her home, determined to learn his background and true identity. Needless to say, her grandson, the current Duke of Wyndham, finds himself less than thrilled by the presence of this possible usurper.
For his part, Jack has no intention of enjoying the Duchess' hospitality for long. However, the information he is given at her home awakens conflicting emotions in him and in the end he decides to stay and learn more about the family he seems to be from. In addition, he cannot deny feeling powerfully drawn to Grace.
From the above summary, one can easily tell that the events in this novel aren't realistic in the slightest. However, the author so perfectly times the story as to reveal bizarre new facts slowly enough to keep from losing the reader. In addition, even though the plot is not realistic, the emotions most certainly are. Grace's warming toward Jack feels real and feels right, and as a reader I found it impossible for my emotions not to be engaged.
I've read just about everything Julia Quinn has written (couldn't get through The Secret Diaries of Miss Miranda Cheever - sorry), and this book has a different feel to it than most. While the story contains light humor and witty dialogue, the emotional range is also impressive. From the quiet greyness of Grace's life early in the story to her many conflicting emotions toward Jack, the feelings in this story seem richer and run more deeply than in many books I've read in any genre. The resulting maturity gives The Lost Duke of Wyndham that special something that makes a book unforgettable.
-- Lynn Spencer
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