Rules to Catch a Devilish Duke

Suzanne Enoch
October 2012, European Historical Romance (Regency England)
St. Martin's, $7.99, 332 pages, Amazon ASIN 0312534531
Part of a series

Grade: B
Sensuality: Warm

Every now and then, a true character driven romance is just what I need to read. When the author puts the time and effort into the characterizations, it always shows. And it eliminates the need for Plots or Big Misunderstandings. Those are the books that make it easy to get lost in the story.

Being the unacknowledged daughter of a Duke and a ladies maid, Sophia White has long fought against the stigma her illegitimate birth has given her. She has never let the title of Bastard define who she is, accepting that she would have to make her own way in the world. At the age of twenty-three, Sophia was fortunate to find a place to fit in at the Tantalus Club alongside other women with somewhat shady backstories. When Sophia’s employment at the club comes under scrutiny by her birth father, she is forced to make a terrible choice; Save the club by marrying a man of the Duke’s choosing or remain employed and watch as he uses all of his influence to close the doors. Sophia’s loyalty is always with the women of the club and she chooses the sacrifice, but does allow herself one last Christmas to enjoy her freedom.

Adam Baswich, Duke of Greaves, has enjoyed a life built upon the influence and wealth that his title provides. Seen as one of the most powerful men in London, Adam is able to use that advantage to get anything that he wants for himself. That power is threatened by a condition of his father’s will that mandates that Adam marry before his thirtieth birthday or all of the un-entailed estates and livelihoods will go to the next male heir. With the deadline only months away, Adam invites several eligible women to his annual Christmas party, along with the few people that he can call his friends. In a small act of rebellion, he also invites Sophia White to the gathering, fully realizing that her presence will likely cause more of a stir than his quest to find a bride. When a bridge collapses and the weather turns, the estate becomes isolated from the outside world, leaving Sophia as his only houseguest. Uncomfortable with his own company, being alone with Sophia forces Adam to interact with a woman who doesn’t kowtow to him just because of their difference in rank.

I enjoyed Sophia’s character, as her strong sense of self allows her to make choices that another woman in her position might not. Being attracted to a man like Adam, the easiest road she could take would be accepting a bid for her affections and living well protected. However, Sophia understands that to become a Mistress would mean sacrificing any chance of living as herself. When she and Adam come together at his estate, they do so more as equals than at his discretion. There is truly a sense in their relationship that the two became friends first, lovers second.

I found a bit less to like about Adam, as he vacillates between the better parts of himself and clinging to the cold and calculating side of his personality that has protected him for so long. Holding the same title as a father he has come to despise, Adam has made a science of doing what he could to separate his actions from the shadows of his disreputable father. Whenever his attentions towards Sophia are called into question, he retreats back into the safety of the title and his reputation, only realizing the cost of his actions well after the fact. However, I liked how he came to respect Sophia for her strength to face society head on and not let their preconceived notions alter her choices in life. And I did appreciate all of the small ways he showed Sophia his true regard for her, as well as his attempts to free her from the obligation to her father.

Moving the setting of the story away from London and the Tantalus Club itself disconnected the story a bit from the actions in the previous titles. Since the crux of Sophia’s dilemma was about saving the club, a new reader to the series might not realize why the club was so scandalous or how important having a place to belong was to the women introduced in the story. A few of the secondary characters are dropped into this book with the expectation that the reader remembers all the details of their past dealings with Adam or Sophia, so not having that knowledge could affect the gravity of a few confrontation scenes towards the end.

Ultimately, these books exist to allow us to share in the emotions that develop within the characters, and in this instance I could feel the bond that grew between Adam and Sophia every step of the way. Right up to the eleventh hour their future didn’t seem certain, yet the strength that they found in one another allows them to confront the challenges head on and live a life for themselves without having to answer to anyone else’s ideal. This is a pleasure to read.

-- Louise VanderVliet

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