Rodale, Maya. Duchess by Design. New York: Avon Books, 2018.
Mass Market Paperback | $7.99 USD | ISBN-13: 978-0062838803 | 371 pages | Historical Romance
I was a little unsure what to think when I first heard about Duchess by Design, because on the one hand, I am all for more Gilded Age-set historicals, but at the same time, I was dismayed that it was still about a duke and a working class girl. But taking into account the historical background, I bought it, held onto it (like many other books for the past year), and when I finally did pick it up, I went into it with an open mind.
And it just blew me away. I tend to be way more wary of books with a hero with a ton of privilege, and a heroine with almost none, but it seems like Rodale, whether intentionally or not, took this into account when crafting the characters. Kingston in particular impressed me, and how she created a character who is a bit out-of-touch with modern ideas and the plight of the lower classes, but not only gives him a believable character arc, but manages to make him endearing from page one. Sure, he has his dense moments, but they only make him a more sympathetic character.
And Adeline is also compelling. While there is a little of “the lower class heroine puts the aristocratic hero in his place,” I didn’t doubt for a second that Adeline lacked agency, even if she did have a lot to lose if things went south. And the chemistry between Adeline and Kingston developed so beautifully in spite of all the obstacles.
I also love the strong focus on female friendship and support of one another as a major subplot in this novel, which I anticipate will be a standout part of the series as a whole. I found it fascinating seeing how the ringleader, Harriet, and the other Ladies of Liberty helped to fund Adeline’s shop when she ended up in a tough spot. And the fact that the trend of dresses with pockets played a somewhat significant role didn’t hurt either.
On the whole, I love this new direction Rodale is taking, and from her authors’ notes and the resources she lists on her website, as well as just the sheer depth of the text itself, it’s clear she embedded a lot of real history into the book. I recommend this to all historical romance readers, especially those hankering for more of the Gilded Age.