Source: publisher via Edelweiss
Formats available: paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: historical romance, regency romance
Series: Diamonds in the Rough #4
Published by Avon on March 26, 2019
Purchasing Info: Author's Website, Publisher's Website, Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Kobo, Book Depository
A woman with a shocking past…
Branded a money-hungry con artist for marrying the elderly Duke of Tremaine days before his death, Viola Cartwright has found refuge in her work at St. Agatha’s Hospital. No one must know the painful reason behind her marriage. She steers clear of attachments—until Henry Lowell, heir to the Viscount Armswell, lands on her operating table after a duel. Charming and wickedly handsome, Lowell is one of London’s most inveterate scoundrels. Yet he may not be all that he appears.
And the man who can promise a future filled with love…
Posing as an unrepentant rake has helped Lowell avoid women pursuing him only for his title. But now that duty has finally called on him to marry, he finds himself entranced by the mysterious, independent-minded Viola. Then her late husband’s son returns from overseas, contesting Viola’s inheritance. Lowell longs to help her and sets out to convince Viola that a strategic union may be the best way to save all she holds dear. But can he also persuade her to take a chance on love…?
The longer this series goes on, the more it reminds me of the Maiden Lane series by Elizabeth Hoyt. Considering how excellent and popular that series was, that’s a terrific thing!
What has made this series so interesting has been the way that either the hero, the heroine, or both, are definitely unconventional for their time while still seeming to be at least plausible. That unconventionality has made the characters more readily identifiable with for 21st readers while not feeling so far out of the realm of the possible as to whiplash the reader out of the story.
In the case of both Viola, Dowager Duchess of Tremaine and Henry Lowell, a viscount’s heir, there is plenty that draws them out of the ordinary while not shifting them into the impossible.
Viola has been a part of the series from relatively early on. Her business partner is Dr. Florian Lowell, an excellent physician AND the heir to a dukedom. Florian’s story was told in the previous book in the series, The Illegitimate Duke.
Viola was trained as a surgeon by her late father, and often works with Florian in the operating theater as well as running the hospital where they work. Viola’s late husband left her a small fortune, and she used that inheritance to start the hospital.
But her late husband was an elderly man when she married him, and society sees her as a conniving gold-digger. So she shuns society in return. Running the hospital is her work, her duty and her fulfillment. She doesn’t care about society – except in so far as she can use her notoriety to raise funds to further develop the hospital.
Henry Lowell is Florian’s brother. He’s also a rake of the first order and seems to find himself in more than his fair share of duels.
That’s how Viola and Henry meet – in the wake of yet another duel. Florian has to patch up his brother. One wonders if at least some of Florian’s original interest in medicine might have been born out of necessity – as Henry gets into more than his fair share of trouble.
But the near-brush with death has Henry re-examining his life. It’s time for him to settle down and start a family, to provide an heir for the title he hopes not to inherit for a long time. He obviously loves his grandparents very much and has no desire to inherit anytime soon.
Henry and Viola have a lot in common. They are both on the outs with society and they both have acquired undeserved and undesirable reputations. They are also both practical-minded people and both are in business for themselves and are successful at and responsible to those businesses.
And they have an intense chemistry that neither wants to deny, although perhaps they both should.
When Viola’s past returns to not merely haunt her, but to strive to take all she has earned away from her, it is her relationship with Henry that provides her with strength – along with even greater vulnerability.
But it is her unconventionality that finally saves the day.
Escape Rating B: Like all of the books in this series, The Infamous Duchess is a lot of frothy fun with just a bit of an unconventional bite to keep things interesting.
(It is not necessary to read the entire series to get into the action in this fourth entry, but they are delicious. Start with A Most Unlikely Duke to see exactly what I mean.
A couple of things about this story that I’m still thinking about.
One is that the portrayal of the cruelty and vindictiveness of Regency society does make one wonder what made it such a fruitful period for romance in general, and why anyone would aspire to be part of that society in particular. While there are some likeable individuals and even families, overall the ton seems petty and venal and just plain nasty. But then again, isn’t that just people?
While both the heroine and the hero of this story are, as is usual, extremely pretty and or handsome, they are both surprisingly deep characters in a lot of very unusual ways. Even more surprising is the way that their unconventionality dovetails together so neatly.
Part of what I enjoyed about Viola was the depth of her character, but also the unusual breadth of her experience. Like many of the protagonists in this series, Viola did not come from the upper classes. Her father was a physician, making her solidly a member of the small middle class. That her marriage raised her to the peerage is not surprising – and neither is the amount of gossip and downright disgust it engendered. That she’s made so very much good out of her circumstances shows a great deal of strength of character. And it is wonderful that it is that strength that draws the hero to her – as much as if not more so than her looks.
It’s also marvelous that he believes from the very beginning that she is the most beautiful woman in any room – even though she does not see herself that way and that objectively she probably would not have been considered a “diamond of the first water”.
Another part of her experience that is out of the ordinary is that while Viola’s marriage was never consummated because of her elderly husband’s illness, she is not a virgin. And the cause of that particular “lack” was the result of her being taken advantage of by her husband’s son – before she married. That the consequences of that act, while in their way shameful and heartbreaking did not lead to either pregnancy, poverty, prostitution or all of the above is refreshing.
And it leads to the dramatic tension of the story – but not in any of the ways that one might expect. It certainly made for a very interesting twist as well as a lingering sense of creeping menace.
There is (obviously as shown above) a villain in this piece, and he’s extremely villainous – almost to the point of caricature. A part of me wants to think of him as a “Snidely Whiplash”, complete with evil cackle, twirling mustache, and tying the heroine to the metaphorical tracks, but the disgusting pustule in this book is so horrible that even Snidely would be rightfully insulted to be considered as part of his company.
Evil does mostly get its just desserts, after a truly frightening climactic scene, but one of his henchmen manages to miss being properly punished, so that part of the story feels a bit unfinished. Perhaps in a later book in the series we’ll see him get his.
Speaking of later books, the series clearly continues. We watched the hero and heroine of the next story meet as The Infamous Duchess concluded, and their entry in the series looks like a real treat!
~~~~~~ TOURWIDE GIVEAWAY ~~~~~~
To celebrate the release of THE INFAMOUS DUCHESS by Sophie Barnes, we’re giving away a paperback set of the first three books in the series━A Most Unlikely Duke, The Duke of Her Desire, and The Illegitimate Duke!
GIVEAWAY TERMS & CONDITIONS: Open to US shipping addresses only. One winner will receive a paperback set of the first three books in the series━A Most Unlikely Duke, The Duke of Her Desire, and The Illegitimate Duke. This giveaway is administered by Pure Textuality PR on behalf of Avon Books. Giveaway ends 4/5/2019 @ 11:59pm EST. Avon Romance will send the winning copies out to the winner directly. Limit one entry per reader and mailing address. Duplicates will be deleted.