Castles Ever After Series: Romancing the Duke by Tessa Dare

[stunned silence followed by vociferous string of profanity-laden expostulations]

That was a change of pace. Well-written. It seems historical romance author Tessa Dare is going in a new direction, one more whimsiquirkilicious than I had anticipated. I have never given my Kindle the side-eye before. And I did, in fact, resist the temptation to throw it across the room. That counts as a victory. And that was certainly the most expletives I have ever let loose while reading a love story. A lot of new things today, it seems.

[cleansing breaths]
[re-reading most of the book]

“I believe there are two ways of writing novels. One is making a sort of musical comedy without music and ignoring real life altogether; the other is going deep down into life and not caring a damn,” said P.G. Wodehouse, giving a surprisingly apt posthumous description of Romancing the Duke.

Delightful historical romance author Tessa Dare has abandoned the ladies of Spindle Cove and embarked on a new series called “Castles Ever After”. As the name suggests, this new novel has a fairy tale undertone/overtone, not to mention many clever references to classics of the romance genre. Dare writes incredibly consistent and enjoyable stories, but of all the authors whose work I buy automatically, Dare is the one who most often requires a willing suspension of disbelief. Romancing the Duke broke mine, Dare BROKE IT, with this playful and quirky novel.

Doubt not that Tessa Dare’s tongue was firmly planted in her cheek: Isolde Ophelia Goodnight’s father not only saddled her with a tragedy-in-waiting name, he left her penniless and alone. Summoned to Gostley Castle in hopes of claiming a bequest from an anonymous benefactor, she instead encounters a derelict estate and its equally derelict ducal inhabitant, Ransom, Duke of Rothbury, who will serve as the tortured hero for the purposes of the story. He’s as big, brooding, and gorgeous as one looks for in such characters. Ransom is just sitting around waiting for the redemptive power of love to bring him back into the world. It’s a good start.

The ermine was a bad sign. Izzy has a pet ermine which, in her defense, was a gift from a fan of her father’s serialized medieval fairy tale. She brings it with her to the castle and they both stay when she discovers that the estate has been bequeathed to her. This comes as quite a shock to Ransom as he did not know the castle had been either a) up for sale or b) sold. His recent blindness has left him a little behind in his correspondence. Things should have proceeded apace from there, but the hijinks, DEAR LORD, the hijinks that ensued.

I had not anticipated costume play or live action role-playing in a Regency romance. I daresay few have. I daresay I’m not even sure it was a Regency romance. It was more of a historically-indeterminate homage to a Gothic novel: the truculent hero; the crumbling castle; the bright-eyed and bushy-tailed destitute heroine; things that go bump in the night; sexual tension; aggressive carnivorous pets; plot elements that are picked up and dropped; inexplicable character shifts; and the almost successful interplay of the love story and whimsy. It was all so cute, I cringed. I wanted a love story, not a Duke getting his LARP on.

I’m not sure who exactly this novel was written for. The short answer is, “Not me.” I get it. It’s not you, Romancing the Duke, it’s me. I was expecting a heartfelt love story with some of Dare’s trademark caprice and smolder, but instead the novel is a romp with an emphatic lack of connection to reality instead of the veneer-of-plausible-deniability connection to reality I look for in romances. It was not what I expected and it was not, like Ransom’s feelings for Izzy, everything I never knew I always wanted.

My partner-in-romance, Malin, loved the book. Check out her review for a different take on Romancing the Duke.

A complete summary of Tessa Dare’s catalogue, with recommendations, can be found here.

Links to my other reviews can be found on my complete reading list of books sorted by author or Author Commentary & The Tallies Shameful.


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