Charming princes weren’t always what they seemed. Shining armor went out of fashion with the Crusades. And if fairy godmothers existed, hers was running several years late. Most of the time, a girl needed to rescue herself.
It is physically impossible to be a fan of romance fiction, or a fan of a fan of romance fiction, without encountering Tessa Dare. I found this book via The Heaving Bosoms Podcast – having already heard of Tessa Dare’s books, I was curious. I’m still relatively new to the romance genre. For literally the longest time I avoided it because I thought I wouldn’t enjoy it. This is, I believe, the side effect of a university degree in English Literature wherein the topic of what counts as ‘proper literature’ was discussed a lot and invariably resulted in a list of books written a long time ago by straight, white, probably racist men which I often hated.
I would rather walk a mile of lego bricks than read Robinson Crusoe ever again. I’m sorry if you love it. I mean I’m not really but I also try to be polite.
So fast forward a few years, I’m now a romance fan and now struggle to get through literary fiction. Go figure.
ANYWAY on to the book.
I need a wife. He supposed he ought to state his requirements: a woman of childbearing age and respectable lineage, in urgent need of money, willing to share a bed with a scarred horror of a man. In short, someone desperate. God, how depressing. Better to leave it at that one line. I need a wife.
In The Duchess Deal we encounter one of my favourite tropes: marriage of convenience. I am a total sucker for a good romance trope. Marriage of convenience? Soul mates? Fake dating? Give them all to me I love them, all. In The Duchess Deal the Duke of Ashbury is in need of a wife, and an heir to inherit his fortune so questionable distant relations don’t get all his things when he dies.
History is full of people planning their own deaths, it’s a lot of fun.
He’s fantastically wealthy, so really he shouldn’t have an issue finding a wife, but war has left him scarred, and life has left him bitter. Enter Emma, a seamstress demanding the money he owes her for a wedding dress his absentee fiancee never used. Every one of their conversations is a wonderfully choreographed verbal dance with neither party willing to yield to the other. Challenging Pride and Prejudice for least romantic proposal ever, we see a match of pure convenience transform in the way of romance novels into a loving relationship with plenty of sarcasm and mutually fulfilling sex. Hooray!
Hardly a spoiler there, it is a romance novel, you know it’ll be happy in the end.
“No. I’ve pressed you too far, too quickly.” He thought about attempting to retrieve his candle, then abandoned the idea. His eyes had adjusted enough that he could find his way to the door.
“It will wait for tomorrow.” He opened the door, went through it, and closed it behind him. He paused, taking a few deep breaths to steady himself. But when he started to leave, he felt something tugging him back. Damn it. He’d shut a fold of his dressing gown in the door.
Ashbury’s servants are quite bold in their attempts to make their master fall in love (in a way that might be considered ‘above their station’) which might ring the historical inaccuracy bell for some readers, and Dare is quite open about the fact that while Badminton did not, at this time, exist she included it anyway because she likes badminton.
Which is fair, to be honest.
There’s also a vegetarian character which may or may not be accurate, but I don’t know, and I appreciated it as a vegetarian. There’s also a vigilante justice storyline but I’ll leave that for you to find out more about. It’s great.
It does manage to deal with some more serious things, like Ashbury’s experiences with war and rejection, and hardships that pushed Emma from her home and forced her into a life of independence. Plus you have two people who do not know each other at all suddenly being married which is obviously going to be tough to negotiate even without the while class gap thing. I mean it helps that they find each other super sexy, but still.
“Tonight,” he said, “you will shine like a jewel. A ruby. An extraordinarily big ruby.” He cocked his head. “You’d be the world’s largest ruby on record, I suppose. One with . . . arms.”
“Was any of that intended as a compliment?”
As far as my first regency romance goes, this one was a great one. Reading it made me so, so happy. The dialogue alone is amazing, the characters are wonderful, there’s a feral cat called breeches and the romance is lovely and sweet and sexy and all around great. I want to read everything Tessa Dare has ever written, and I probably will because I’ve figured out at 23 that romance fiction makes me incredibly happy (and balances out the fact that I quite enjoy horror novels, and so occasionally need to read something a bit lighter in which fewer people are murdered).
Overall rating: 5 books out of 5