by Claudia Dain, historical (2009)
Berkley, $15.00, ISBN 978-0425-22968-2
I decided to postpone reading the previous book in Claudian Dain's The Courtesan Chronicles series for the time being because in The Courtesan's Secret, Sophia Dalby was starting to annoy me. She was an overpowering presence in that book, constantly overshadowing other characters in a story that isn't about her, and shortchanging those characters as a result. When I saw How To Dazzle A Duke, I didn't look too closely at it. Naïvely assuming that this is a new series because of the title, I took it home, only to realize much later that this one is indeed part of the series. Still, I have to say that How To Dazzle A Duke isn't as bad as I feared at first.
Penelope Prestwick's most recent attempt to snag herself a husband didn't work out too well as it resulted in the couple of the previous book getting hitched instead. Still, no matter, our supremely practical heroine decides that there are still enough bachelor Dukes around the place to focus her attention on. The Duke of Edenham, for example, is a most agreeable candidate as he'd already had his heirs and he is also supremely handsome in her estimation. Like the heroines of the previous books, she decides to approach the infamous ex-courtesan turned Ton diva Lady Dalby for advice.
The Marquess of Iveston saw his two brothers married due to Sophia's machinations, but he is confident that he will be the one to escape any matchmaking traps. Alas, he walks right into one when he becomes intrigued by Penelope's determination to ensnare Edenham. He allows himself to be part of her scheme, and before he and Penelope know it, they are exchanging saucy looks and more behind closed doors. Perhaps it is a good thing that he is the heir of a Dukedom. Who says a woman can't have everything, eh?
I have a suspicion that readers picky about historical accuracy are going to need to suspend their disbelief here because the farce that plays out eventually culminates in people of the Ton openly betting and speculating on what is essentially Penelope's ruination. Still, I personally have a good laugh out of the whole thing. This is what I feel is How To Dazzle A Duke's greatest strength: it is an enjoyable period comedy romp. The exchanges make me laugh and the author's timing is perfect.
This story doesn't fare as well as a romance, though. The romance is underdeveloped as Penelope and Iveston move from playful insults to first base to second base too quickly in the later stage of the story to be believable. Penelope is a retread, a watered down version of Sophia, while Iveston is a most underwritten character. A reason for the underdeveloped romance is that Ms Dain is fond of using other secondary characters to narrate the development of the relationship through their points of view. This makes for some funny reading, but it also deprives me of any insight into what makes the characters tick. Another reason is that Sophia still dominates the story and overwhelms the other characters. Whenever she is in a scene, the scene immediately shifts focus onto her. Ms Dain loves Sophia, I can see that, and I like Sophia too, but Sophia is going to be the greatest enemy of this series if Ms Dain doesn't stop letting that character take control of the story and turn it into all about her. Yes, I know that Sophia is beautiful, brilliant, amazing, and what not - but I'd also like to know more of Penelope and Iveston. This story is supposed to be theirs, after all, as much as Sophia's.
How To Dazzle A Duke is an entertaining read, and it also has me thinking that perhaps I should give the previous book a read as well. But because Sophia refuses to let me forget that everything is about her, this story is lacking much-needed depth to make it a memorable one where I am concerned.
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