Desperate for grandchildren and a Dower House, Her Grace the Duchess of Halford has gone to the trouble of drugging her son, Griffin York, His Grace the Duke of Halford, and bringing him to Spindle Cove. Familiar to Tessa Dare readers as the setting of her current series, it’s a convenient location for duchess hunting, rife with eligible young ladies who don’t fit into Society for one reason or another. Her Grace insists that her son pick somebody, ANYBODY, and she will mold a Duchess out of the woman. Griff, vexed and still half-lit, picks the barmaid, Pauline Simms, to irk his mother, and because the little voice inside him whispers, “Her. I’ll take her.” Pauline is an astute, purposeful, and engaging woman with a challenging home life. Griff offers her an obscene amount of money to humour his mother and fail spectacularly at “duchess training”.
I’ve written before about the two basic heroes in historical romance novels: The Rake and The Protector. This may be the first novel I’ve ever read in which a character readers met as a Rake in an earlier story is reintroduced later in the midst of transforming himself into a Protector. When Tessa Dare’s readers first met Griff in A Week to Be Wicked, he was a dissipated, dissolute, hedonistic sybarite. He fit a lot into a couple of pages. His Grace wasn’t exactly hero material, but that was Dare’s challenge. You have to bring them low to build them up. Griff had been brought very low indeed before the story began and, I have to say, I don’t think I’ve seen an unapologetic rake so completely redeemed since Sebastian St. Vincent took a bullet for Evie Jenner in The Devil in Winter.
Any Duchess Will Do is a very good historical romance: clever, sweet, sexy, and, yes, romantic. Tessa Dare’s books are always a great deal of fun and often more than slightly implausible. My review of her recent novella, Beauty and the Blacksmith, included my thoughts on the willing suspension of disbelief in romance in general and with this writer in particular. Dare pulls the story off much more successfully in this case because, frankly, the hero is a Duke and rich as Croesus, and because Dare takes a romance trope and gives it enough of a twist to make it sufficiently crediblesque to maintain the illusion. For readers of the series, she has some savvy reincorporation, which was absolutely necessary to keep the willing suspension of disbelief going, although she was less successful in bringing back her most popular characters from A Week to Be Wicked and That Other Book I Didn’t Like as Much.
Reviewer’s Note: I sincerely hope that someone somewhere in the romance sub-culture is making a list of all the things Dare’s heroes compare their telltale masculine firmness to. She has a particular gift for wry metaphor in this area.
A complete summary of Tessa Dare’s catalogue, with recommendations, can be found here.