How the Duke Was Won
Published April 26, 2016
($7.99 paperback, $6.99 ebook)
Filled with swapped identities, a recalcitrant duke, and a boisterous band of supporting characters, Lenora Bell’s How the Duke Was Won is a spectacular success. The plot is innovative, the chemistry sizzles, and the happily-ever-after is all that a sappy reader like myself could hope for. This isn’t a new release– it came out in April of this year, but it’s definitely worth looking back at. The next book in the series was released a couple of weeks ago, and is definitely on my TBR list.
Charlene Beckett, an earl’s illegitimate daughter, is in desperate straits– her mother is proprietress of a nearly-bankrupt brothel and a loathsome lord/loanshark is knocking on their door to collect his repayment, in the form of Charlene’s services. Fortunately, her father’s wife, Lady Desmond, has come to hire Charlene to impersonate her own daughter, Lady Dorothea, at a house party hosted by the elusive Duke of Harland. The two half-sisters, Charlene and Dorothea, are nearly identical; all Charlene has to do is obtain a proposal from the Duke and then allow Dorothea to take her place when she returns from an overseas voyage. In exchange, Lady Desmond will pay off Charlene’s debt, freeing her from the clutches of the malicious lord. Seems easy enough, no?
Of course, things go awry almost immediately. James, Duke of Harland is an eccentric fellow, passionate about human rights and industry. He needs a wealthy wife with powerful political connections to support his abolitionist cause, “a blameless virgin to sacrifice to the gods of Reputation and Respectability” . James dresses up as a footman to observe the four women he has invited to his home as potential matches; immediately he is struck by Charlene’s beauty but, fearing falling in love with his wife, decides to try to scare her off. The meet-cute in this book is perfection. Charlene’s rough life in the brothel has led her to develop some effective self-defense maneuvers. When James (dressed as a footman) tries to proposition her in an attempt to scare her away, Charlene simply levels him! How fitting that he is felled by Charlene and the wind is knocked out of him. For the rest of the book, Charlene surprises and delights James at every turn and he is utterly enchanted, despite his resistance.
Some of the best parts about this book are the amusing situations that happen as a result of the hidden identity. Wearing her half-sister’s too-small clothes, Charlene creates a memorable and scandalous image when bodice rips open in the middle of a crowded drawing room! Of course, James is both appalled and fascinated by this event– at dinner, when Charlene is wearing yet another too-tight bodice he thinks to himself, “Please God, no more nipples.” How often do you see that in a romance novel?!
Other awesome elements of How the Duke Was Won are the historical details and larger historical context. James’ industry is cacao; he owns cacao plantations in the West Indies and a manufactory for hot chocolate in London. He is passionate about humane work environments for his plantation laborers and his factory workers; his main goal in acquiring a wife is to find one with a political father who will support his beliefs in Parliament. James is righteous, but not cloyingly so. Charlene’s life in a brothel has made her sympathetic to the plights of workers. Thus, James and Charlene are a perfect, passionate match!
The romance in How the Duke Was Won is quite charming. Bell’s descriptions are delightfully romantic:
She smiled. A slow-blooming smile that unfurled large enough to fill the kitchen and powerful enough to heat the entire estate.
He couldn’t see anything else.
He wanted to hold his hands out, warm himself in the heat of that smile.
Ugh, my heart is gushing.
I am ashamed to say that I am a newcomer to Lenora Bell. I haven’t yet read the next installation of this series, If I Only Had A Duke, but it’s definitely on my TBR list. However, after having read How the Duke Was Won, you can bet your ass I’m going to be gobbling up Lenora Bell books as fast as I can get my hands on them. This book was totally charming and felt refreshingly unique, and I would recommend it to any lovers of historical romance!