Any Duchess Will Do, by Tessa Dare

>> Saturday, July 13, 2013

TITLE: Any Duchess Will Do
AUTHOR: Tessa Dare

PAGES: 384

SETTING: Early 19th century England
TYPE: Romance
SERIES: 4th in the Spindle Cove series

What's a duke to do, when the girl who's perfectly wrong becomes the woman he can't live without?

Griffin York, the Duke of Halford, has no desire to wed this season--or any season--but his diabolical mother abducts him to "Spinster Cove" and insists he select a bride from the ladies in residence. Griff decides to teach her a lesson that will end the marriage debate forever. He chooses the serving girl.

Overworked and struggling, Pauline Simms doesn't dream about dukes. All she wants is to hang up her barmaid apron and open a bookshop. That dream becomes a possibility when an arrogant, sinfully attractive duke offers her a small fortune for a week's employment. Her duties are simple: submit to his mother's "duchess training"... and fail miserably.

But in London, Pauline isn't a miserable failure. She's a brave, quick-witted, beguiling failure--a woman who ignites Griff's desire and soothes the darkness in his soul. Keeping Pauline by his side won't be easy. Even if Society could accept a serving girl duchess--can a roguish duke convince a serving girl to trust him with her heart?
Let's get this straight from the start: this is a mistorical of the highest order. The circumstances, characters, and attitudes are all jaw-droppingly historically inaccurate. We're talking about a plot where the hero is drugged and 'kidnapped' by his own mother, who is experiencing what I can only describe as a ticking grandparental biological clock (a first, and, I hope, a last for me as a reader). She's tired of waiting for him to marry and give her grandchildren, so she decides to go for "quantity over quality" and take him to Spindle Cove (aka Spinster Cove). The place is known for being a refuge for unmarried women who somehow do not fit in in society.

The hero, Griff, Duke of Halford, is indignant and decides to teach his mother a lesson. Ok, so he can choose any women there, and his mother will be ok with it? Well, what if he chooses the barmaid? To cut a long story short, they end up agreeing that if his mother can make the young woman, Pauline Simms, into a duchess in a week, then he'll marry her. If not, his mother will never again bother him to get married. Griff is sure he'll win, especially because he's offered an additional monetary incentive to Pauline to sabotage his mother's efforts. But of course, he finds himself uncomfortably attracted and drawn to this woman.

It's not just the plot that's preposterous. Pauline is completely unbelievable as a young woman brought up in the circumstances she was, and the reactions of the characters around them are just as ridiculous. My favourite was the friend of Griff's who, even when thinking Pauline is your average young, gently-bred lady, happily yaps on about how Griff has been behaving like a monk this past year, and it's a good thing Pauline is there because he wants to change that, even though of course, he fully supports Griff in not wanting to get married. Yes, ladies and gentlemen, in front of a young virgin and Griff's mother, her chaperone, this man says that Griff hasn't fucked in a year, and he hopes he soon fucks Pauline and doesn't marry her, and no one bats an eye.

The only way to enjoy this book even a little bit is to pretend it's not set in early-19th century England, but in an alternate universe which looks kind of like it. Even then, the internal logic sometimes fails (see the previous example), but mostly it sort of works. I was able to suspend disbelief in such a way for long stretches, and, it may surprise you to know, after the previous ranty paragraphs, I didn't hate this, even enjoyed some of it.

I think the main thing I liked about it was Pauline (well, she's not a 'thing', but you know what I mean). She's not at all a star-struck pawn in Griff's battle with his mother. From the start, she sees exactly how insulting and patronising Griff's choice of her as his intended bride is (to be fair, so does he, and is embarrassed), and exactly what it's meant to accomplish. She initially only goes along to get back at them ("Oh, yeah? Well, come along to the family hovel and have tea with my parents, since you're so intent in offering for me."). After she makes her point, she goes along only because she will be able to get independence out of it, and the means to care for her sister, who's got learning disabilities and is miserable living with their cruel and aggressive father. And while she's in town, she doesn't take any crap from anyone. Oh, she's got her flaws and insecurities, and Griff's actions can hurt her, but I admired how she dealt with all this. She's awesome.

Griff, not so much. The reason for his extreme reluctance to get married is not hard to guess, but it's heartbreaking. It provides some justification, but for me, it didn't completely gel, and that meant that his character didn't, either, and that neither did the romance, because I didn't quite get what Pauline saw in him. And then the big resolution. The suspension of disbelief required was too big, too internally incoherent, and preposterous.

Tessa Dare can manage to make a mistorical immensely enjoyable. She did it with A Week To Be Wicked, which I adored. She gets halfway through here, but she doesn't quite make it.

MY GRADE: A B-, raised from a C+ just by the power of Pauline's awesomeness.


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