by Claudia Dain, historical (2010)
Berkley, $7.99, ISBN 978-0-425-23546-1
Daring A Duke is the fifth book in Claudia Dain's The Courtesan Chronicles, and therefore, you are strongly advised not to plunge into this one without having read at least the previous book, How To Dazzle A Duke.
This series is an ensemble farcical comedy revolving around Sophia Dalby, a former courtesan who did good by marrying an Earl some twenty years ago. Sophia is a shrewd and manipulative person who is nonetheless irresistible to men and reluctantly admired by ladies who sought her advice in snaring her husband. Indeed, she had her hand in getting the couples in the previous four books hitched in record time, and here, she is at it again.
Jane Elliot is in London to attend her cousin's wedding, and when the story opens, she is not too pleased because her overprotective brothers make sure that she's never leaving their sight. She is in London, and she's only getting to see the garden! This will not do. She decides to enlist Lady Dalby's aid in persuading her brothers to let her stay in London until the end of the Season. Meanwhile, Hugh Asher, the Duke of Edenham, only has to take one look at Jane and becomes immediately smitten. Hugh was married three times and each wife died shortly into the marriage, which made him a bit of a macabre figure among the Ton. Jane however doesn't worry too much about Hugh's inability to keep his wives alive: she thinks she doesn't want to marry, period. Unfortunately, not only Edenham wants her to marry him, this same sentiment is shared by her aunt, her cousins and cousins-in-law, Edenham's sister, and Sophia herself.
Daring A Duke is not for newcomers to the series. The characterization of Edenham and various secondary characters is spread out over the previous books. The only genuinely new characters are Jane and her brothers. Jane's personality is quite irritating as she is clearly a young lady who doesn't know what she means. It is good thing that she manages to play very well into the witty exchanges of various secondary characters because her scenes with these characters are far more humorous than her typically childish scenes with Edenham.
But the romance is not what you should be reading this book for. The focus of this book is the humor that arises from the interactions of various secondary characters as they watch, twitter behind their fans, and slowly play our main characters into a marriage. Love is a battlefield here, and Lady Dalby is always three moves ahead of everyone else. For me, the humor does work, as does the cheerful way the author pokes fun at how we become fools in the name of love.
However, since there is nothing much here that can't be found in the previous four books, the story could have worn thin. Fortunately, there is a good reason to read this book: here, Sophia Dalby and Lord Ruan's relationship intensifies even as the skeletons in Sophia's closet emerge slowly. Sophia comes off as a little bit more human here when she's not playing the omnipotent matchmaker and manipulator, and the last chapter is a must-read for anyone who is intrigued by this character.
Daring A Duke isn't much different from the other books in this series, but Ms Dain wisely offers a very good reason to keep reading if you are intrigued by Lady Dalby's character and wish to know more about her as well as to see her relationship with Lord Ruan develop. Suddenly I can't wait for a story about these two.
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