A Most Suitable Duchess, by Patricia Bray

>> Thursday, March 22, 2007

After I'd had the cover of A Most Suitable Duchess, by Patricia Bray on my sidebar for a few days, jmc emailed me wondering if she was seeing correctly. Since not everyone is as eagle-eyed as she is, click here to see a larger version of the cover, and read the title carefully.

I've checked the actual book and the title is fine there, so I wonder where that image came from (obviously, I didn't scan it. I just searched for it with google images). Is it someone's idea of a joke? I don't think this book had more than one printing, so it can't have been fixed in the reissue. Just strange.

PS - What's a "Dutchess", you ask? My best guess is: a duchess from the Netherlands (sorry, sorry, couldn't resist! *g*)

A Duke Desperate To Wed

Marcus Heywood, the new Duke of Torringford, must take a wife in three weeks or lose the country estate he's unexpectedly inherited. But how can he possibly find a suitable mate in so short a time? His brother, Reginald, suggests an advertisement in the papers, something Marcus refuses to consider, until a wine-fueled evening when he pens one in jest. Now, in a horrible mix-up, the ad has been printed and Marcus is mortified. Yet a week later, he is no closer to being wed than before. That's when the lovely Miss Penelope Hastings suddenly enters his life and his heart.

A Spinster Longing For Love

At one and twenty, Penelope's spinsterhood seems onfirmed; she'll never find a man she can marry. But her half-brother thinks otherwise. Without her knowledge, he answers the Duke of Torringford's advertisement for a wife and signs her name to it. When an announcement of her upcoming wedding to the Duke appears in the papers, Penelope knows she must take her place as his wife, or her honor will be ruined. But it will be a marriage in name only, that she's sure of; until the handsome good looks and warm smile of her new husband make her heart pound in a most unsettling way...
Best word for this book is "pleasant". Bray has a smooth style of writing and the book is very readable. It's got some very nice touches, but it's not particularly excellent or exciting, just... pleasant. Since it was just what I was wanting to read at the time, and it hit the spot perfectly, I'm giving it a B-.

Marcus Heywood has unexpectedly inherited a dukedom, after everyone else who was in line for it managed to pass away. Unfortunately, though, to inherit all the unentailed wealth that would come with the title, Marcus needs to be married before he turns 30... in barely a month.

Marcus is perfectly happy with his placid life in his farm, so he wouldn't mind passing on the inheritance. He intends to do just that, until he finds out that the former heir borrowed heavily against his prospects. This guy, BTW, was the reason for the "must be married by 30" clause... the old duke thought he was an irresponsible twit and that marriage would steady him. He had no idea that the guy who'd ultimately inherit would be as steady as Marcus.

Anyway, Marcus' overdeveloped honor just won't let him ignore those debts, but there's no way he can pay them on his normal income. Ergo, he'll need to claim that inheritance; ergo, he'll need to get married quickly. But.. who to marry, and so fast? Talking with his brother, they joke about how easy it would be if he could simply put an ad in the paper for candidates to the post of duchess, the same way they're advertising for a kennelmaster for Marcus' estate. They even write a mock ad with the attributes this duchess should possess.

A few days later, Marcus is horrified to discover that his brother took the wrong piece of paper to the newpapers, and everyone is talking about that crass new Duke of Torringford, who's advertising for a wife. He's even got a pile of replies, and since he's no closer to finding a wife on his own, he's persuaded to actually meet with the most likely candidates.

One of those candidates is Penelope Hastings, but she wasn't the one who answered the ad. It wasn't her brother, either, as it says on the back cover, but her brother's jealous fiancée. Penelope meets with the duke thinking he called her to talk about a contribution to one of the societies she's a member of, and is stunned to discover what has happened. She explains, Marcus explains, she politely refuses to consider any possibility of marriage, and leaves.

But oops! Everyone's seen her come out of his office, and rumours start flying that she was one of those trashy women who answered the ad. As a result, her nitwit of a brother, spurred on by the mean fiancée, gives her an ultimatum: either go through with the marriage, or retire to the middle of nowhere.

Penelope, a total city girl and no nitwit herself, goes for the marriage, and so she and Marcus begin what's a very classic marriage of convenience.

As you can see from my description, the whole book is based on a chain of errors and jokes and mean people behaving meanly, but there are no big misunderstandings, and that was something I loved about how Bray set things up. Penelope and Marcus actually talk to each other and quickly set things straight, going into their marriage understanding the circumstances perfectly.

They are both quite interesting characters, too. City-girl Penelope has quite a full live, with plenty of good friends and lots of different interests. She's not a social butterfly, but she makes the most of living in Edinburgh, participating in a bunch of societies. She's smart and sensible, and a pretty well-drawn character, with her own very individual flaws. For instance, Penelope has a bit of a sharp tongue. She doesn't tolerate any impertinence with the Torringford servants, who at first are predisposed to think badly of her and the new duke, and she doesn't like it when her friends try to gently remonstrate with her for something she does. It's definitely a fault, but one that makes her more distinct and human, and I liked her more for having it.

As for Marcus, he's very much the country gentleman, who just lives for his farm and his crops and his dogs. He's uncomfortable in his new role as duke and really wishes he could just ignore all this nonsense and continue with his comfortable life.

I liked seeing the slow development of their relationship, with their increasing fondness for each other and growing physical attraction. On this subject, I must mention that the door is banged on the reader's face during the sex scenes. Usually, I tend to prefer to actually see the sex (yeah, prurient interest, but not just that. Sex scenes can tell you a lot about characters and their relationship, if done right), but in this case, there wasn't any particularly hot chemistry going on, so I don't know. Maybe instead of going through the motions of a love scene just for the sake of a love scene, better to just skip it and be told they enjoyed themselves very much.

In this area we get the only misunderstanding in the book. Or rather, I don't know if I should call it a misunderstanding. What happens is that when it comes to their feelings, both think the other is happy with the original agreement of a marriage that's purely of convenience, while the reality is that both have fallen in love. But it's, well, such an understandable misunderstanding, and one true to their personalities and relationship. It makes sense that neither of them would feel comfortable going out on a limb and expressing their innermost feelings, and it's completely in-character for both that they prefer to wait and see. And anyway, this doesn't go on for an excessively long time.

As pleasant as this book was, it still had a couple of problems and annoyances. Near the end, a subplot develops about Penelope's former suitor reappearing. The guy is obviously up to no good, etc., etc. This was very uninteresting and came completely out of the blue, but I did like how it was solved, with complete honesty between Marcus and Penelope.

Something else I wasn't completely convinced by was about how Marcus and Penelope are supposed to be passionately in love. Hmmm. I just didn't see that much passion there. It looked more like great fondness and being best friends, but I guess it could have been simply a quiet, warm love. Still, not wholly convincing.

Finally, there's the issue of just how and where they will live that is left a bit hanging. All throughout the book, Penelope is presented as loving life in the city. As I said, she's not one for lavish balls and parties, but she does like having culture and sophisticated company nearby. Marcus, on the other hand, obviously hates the city. So once their feelings are expressed and seen to be returned, and they decide to have a true love marriage, what happens? How do they live? My impression is that they're living in Torringford, but what about Penelope? I'm willing to assume that Marcus will spend some time with her in the city, but it's not stated, and all I'm basing my assumption on is a feeling that Marcus is a decent man, so surely he'll be willing to spend some time there so that Penelope will have what she so loves at least a few months every year.

So, a nice, warm read. I'd be willing to try this author again.


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