Ahoy there me mateys! For those of ye who are new to me log, a word: though this log’s focus is on sci-fi, fantasy, and young adult, this Captain does have broader reading tastes. Occasionally I will share some novels that I enjoyed that are off the charts (a non sci-fi, fantasy, or young adult novel), as it were. So today I bring ye an unsuccessful romance.
bringing down the duke (Evie Dunmore)
The appealing cover led to me interest. I adore the bright colors and fun title. The marketing team deserves a lot of credit. I don’t normally read romances but this one sounded silly and fun. It is set during the Regency period and the feminine protagonist, Annabelle, is a suffragette and one of the first women to study at Oxford. I expected this to be a story about a strong willed and driven woman who has a hate to love journey. Sadly I had to stop reading at 59.5% as this book went from fun to infuriating.
The beginning of the book started out great. Sure the book has lots of clichés, tropes, and silliness but rather than being annoyed, I kinda felt like I was meeting an old beloved friend. I was entertained because I felt like the novel was pulling from books by Austen, the Brontë sisters, etc. and I liked the homages. I loved the set-up. I was heartily entertained by how the two love interests meet and was looking forward to see how they would interact.
Things went well up until the first real meeting of the pair. The pretext for their run-in was the first hint of bad things to come because it was a badly devised supposed suffragette subplot. Now mind ye the only reason Annabelle is involved with the political movement is exchange for them paying her tuition. She doesn’t actively want to be involved. Neither do any of the women in the group. The suffragette aspect is extremely minor and used poorly. This was supposed to be one of the highlights of the book.
So of course girly-whirl accidentally runs into Duke at his manor house. There is a misunderstanding, she runs out into the snow, the Duke has to fetch her on his horse, she catches a cold (like Jane in P&P), and has to recuperate on the estate. The plot then goes to hell and the anachronisms take over. The supposed intelligent woman is completely turned into an insipid idiot over her lust. She got in trouble early in life for fornication and destroyed her prospects and here she is again being even more stupid by not learning from her prior mistake. Ugh.
And the anachronisms are awful. Going places without a chaperone, being alone with an unmarried man, wearing a skintight dress without undergarments (seriously this type of dress DID NOT exist), the use of the wrong honorifics, and language that felt too modern all appear here.
But really the kicker was how awful the relationship between the Duke and the dumb girl was. The Duke is an alpha male determined to have sex with his conquest on any terms. Even the things that are supposed to be nice, like a new coat, are because he doesn’t like seeing pretty thing in an old-fashioned shoddy coat. Annabelle’s brains fall out of her head because of his manliness and his masculine scent. Love seems to have no place. Lust rules the day.
That could be okay if the sex scenes didn’t feel so one-sided. Annabelle loses her identity and agency. The Duke’s desires subsume her own and feels so toxic. He doesn’t really seem to care about Annabelle’s needs or wants or how their sexual exploits would ruin her future. Bah! I just couldn’t take it anymore. I abandoned this one in disgust even more annoyed because it had so much early potential. Plus it promised, but didn’t really deliver, women at Oxford and suffragettes. Arrr!
As Matey Siria says in her review (shortened but seriously read the whole thing):
“This is a book featuring suffragettes, but this is not a feminist book. In fact, Bringing Down the Duke seems to use its thin veneer of wokeness as an excuse to revel in gender essentialism . . . The love interest—Sebastian, Duke of Montgomery—is the kind of alpha male character to whom I have an instant aversion. He’s constantly looming over the protagonist, Annabelle, using his size against her, grabbing her by the arm to stop her from getting her away, backing her into walls . . . And then there’s Annabelle, who repeatedly acts like an idiot, but whom we’re told is very smart because she’s read Thucydides; whose political and moral principles seem to be based on the best interests of whomever she last spoke to; and who never once seemed like the impoverished but genteel daughter of a rural Victorian clergyman whom she purported to be . . .”
Goodreads had this to say about the novel:
England, 1879. Annabelle Archer, the brilliant but destitute daughter of a country vicar, has earned herself a place among the first cohort of female students at the renowned University of Oxford. In return for her scholarship, she must support the rising women’s suffrage movement. Her charge: recruit men of influence to champion their cause. Her target: Sebastian Devereux, the cold and calculating Duke of Montgomery who steers Britain’s politics at the Queen’s command. Her challenge: not to give in to the powerful attraction she can’t deny for the man who opposes everything she stands for.
Sebastian is appalled to find a suffragist squad has infiltrated his ducal home, but the real threat is his impossible feelings for green-eyed beauty Annabelle. He is looking for a wife of equal standing to secure the legacy he has worked so hard to rebuild, not an outspoken commoner who could never be his duchess. But he wouldn’t be the greatest strategist of the Kingdom if he couldn’t claim this alluring bluestocking without the promise of a ring…or could he?
Locked in a battle with rising passion and a will matching her own, Annabelle will learn just what it takes to topple a duke….
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