James, the scandalously uncivilized Duke of Harland, requires a bride with a spotless reputation for a strictly business arrangement. Lust is prohibited and love is out of the question.
Four ladies. Three days. What could go wrong?
She is not like the others . . .
Charlene Beckett, the unacknowledged daughter of an earl and a courtesan, has just been offered a life-altering fortune to pose as her half-sister, Lady Dorothea, and win the duke’s proposal. All she must do is:
- Be the perfect English rose (Ha!)
- Breathe, smile, and curtsy in impossibly tight gowns (blast Lady Dorothea’s sylph-like figure)
- Charm and seduce a wild duke (without appearing to try)
- Keep said duke far, far from her heart (no matter how tempting)
When secrets are revealed and passion overwhelms, James must decide if the last lady he should want is really everything he needs. And Charlene must decide if the promise of a new life is worth risking everything . . . including her heart… (Goodreads)
It has been ages since I have read a historical romance, so when I was given the opportunity to read and review the debut novel of Lenora Bell, I was thrilled. Little did I know that, between the subtle cover, lay a book that sunk its claws into me and wouldn’t let me go until I had finished this gem of a book.
How The Duke Was Won had that whimsical fairy tale feel to it, but with a wickedly sexy undertone. Many times throughout the book, I couldn’t help but burst out laughing as I read at the escapades that Charlene and James managed to get up to; from Charlene having to explain how she knew self-defense moves that would make Jackie Chan proud, to James trying his best to chase Charlene away as his attraction to this most unsuitable duchess seemed to grow.
It had so many of the elements that I really like; a heroine who accepts a highly risky deal in order to make the lives of those she loves better, while trying to advert the unwanted advances of a horrible duke; characters pretending to be someone they are not, though in James case it is to try and find out what his potential bride is really like and the character proving that they truly love the other by stepping back, even though their heart is breaking. Trying to juggle all these elements can be difficult but Bell masterfully weaves them in a way that is fluid. I got swept up in the story and became so heavily invested in James and Charelene getting their happy ever after, even though it seemed society was against them.
From the very first “meet-cute” (involving a rather hilarious explanation on how Charlene knew how to defend herself when she was supposed to be a refined debutant), to the very last chapter, you can tell that these two are so perfect for each other. They complement and bring the best of each other.
Charlene has many traits I really like, not just in a historical romance, but in any romance book. She is independent and forward thinking, refusing to follow the path that society expects her to take. Yet, she is also incredibly loyal and compassionate, trying to do her bit in making the lives of those less fortunate a bit better, even when it is not the proper thing to do. Needless to say, she has a spirit about her that is infectious and not only affects James, but also two other characters who she becomes close with.
As for James, he is the poster man for the Dashing Rouge who has had responsibility thrust upon him. He wants to both satisfy family obligations, while also continuing to have his overseas adventures. While he is looking for a pliable, docile woman to give him a heir and a sense of respectability, like a moth to a flame he is drawn to Charlene. He is pure alpha male and to be thrown of his axis by Charlene takes him by surprise, especially with how she reacts to one of the secrets he has been holding back.
While Charlene and James are the centre point of the book, I quickly became invested in some of the supporting characters stories, especially Dalton, one Jameses childhood friends; Alice, one of the other debutants who is competing for James hand in marriage and Kyuzo, the Japanese bodyguard who protects Charlene and the other girls who work at her mother’s “boarding house”. These are the character’s that were there for most of the journey.
Yet, Bell manages to throw in a wild card near the end in the form of Charlene’s half-sister, Dorothea. The image of the pompous, privileged society miss is quickly obliterated and I felt more than sorry for the impossible position her family put her in. Bell discards the easy way of making her the pantomime villain and creates a sympathetic character in a few chapters when some more well-known authors would have. It is a ballsy move that plays off well.
Concluding the is book left me both satisfied with how everything turned out for James and Charlene, but I was itching to see what happens to the other characters. Thankfully, the next book in the series is out in Augusts, but even that seems too long a wait.
As I said, it has been ages since I have read a Historical Romance novel, but after reading this I don’t know why I have waited so long. The praise on the covers are correct when they say that Bell is a refreshing voice in the genre. She manages to both recapture this readers love for a good old fashioned fairy tale, where the underdog gets the happy ever after they so rightly deserve, while making it contemporary in tone.
If you love a good historical romance, you can’t go wrong with this and I urge you to pick this up. You won’t regret it… OK so maybe you will when its 3am in the morning and you have finished the book, but have work at 7am.
THE DISGRACEFUL DUKE SERIES IN ORDER
1 How the Duke Was Won
2 If I Only Had a Duke