Dare, Tessa. The Duchess Deal. New York: Avon Books, 2017. ISBN-13: 978-0-06-234906-4. Print List Price: $7.99.
Tessa Dare has been an autobuy author for me since her Spindle Cove series, and all of her titles published under Avon have been wonderful, four-to-five star reads, especially her release last year, the riotously funny Do You Want to Start a Scandal. But something about this book, the first in her new series, just fell a bit flat for me.
And it starts with the cover. I know the author doesn’t have a lot of input into the cover, and I will admit that the cover is different in its use of natural lighting, but this cover clearly is one of many continuing the trend of gratuitous shirtless men on romance covers, which are clearly meant to sexually attract female readers. Otherwise, they might have considered the fact that he has scars which make him physically unattractive, and play a significant part in his arc over the course of the story. And unlike fantasy retellings of Beauty and the Beast, he doesn’t magically turn into a handsome prince at the end when he “learns to love.”
But my beef with the cover aside, the romance felt weak. I have no idea what these two people ended up bonding over, or whether I was supposed to root for them or not. There’s no mention of what they have in common, and they just seem to fall for each other amidst all the hanky-panky they’re doing.
Ashbury is another weak spot, and this speaks more to my personal preference for heroes that aren’t total jackasses for over 75% of the book. I didn’t understand how he ended up at Waterloo in the first place, if he was the heir to a dukedom (if he was his father’s only son, wouldn’t he be expected to stay at home, in fear of his mortality?), and his self-pitying behavior started to get on my nerves. The one consolation in all this is that he had a therapist of sorts in his butler, Khan (who I really wish we could see more of, because he’s hilarious).
However, Emma is a compelling character, and her story arc, having been rejected by her father for a past indiscretion, shows both how far we have come as a society in terms of women’s suffrage, but how far we have left to go. The story also inserts a few other subtle nods to the current political climate, that somehow fit seamlessly into the world of Regency England, but will still get a chuckle or a nod of acknowledgement from modern readers.
There was one thing that also bothered me: Alexandra Mountbatten, who is the heroine of the next book. She seems interesting enough, but the problem is that I wonder if Ms. Dare did research into the history of the surname Mountbatten, which was adopted first by a branch of the German Battenberg family during World War I (over a century after the Regency), and later by Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh upon his marriage to the-then Princess Elizabeth in 1947. I always thought it was common practice to avoid using surnames or titles of real-life peers. I’m sure this won’t bother everyone, but this bothered me, especially as her origins are never explicitly explained.