Review: The Duke Who Didn’t by Courtney Milan

Review: The Duke Who Didn’t by Courtney MilanThe Duke Who Didn't by Courtney Milan
Format: ebook
Source: purchased from Amazon
Formats available: paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: historical fiction, historical romance
Series: Wedgeford Trials #1
Pages: 311
Published by Courtney Milan on September 22, 2020
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

Miss Chloe Fong has plans for her life, lists for her days, and absolutely no time for nonsense. Three years ago, she told her childhood sweetheart that he could talk to her once he planned to be serious. He disappeared that very night.
Except now he’s back. Jeremy Wentworth, the Duke of Lansing, has returned to the tiny village he once visited with the hope of wooing Chloe. In his defense, it took him years of attempting to be serious to realize that the endeavor was incompatible with his personality.
All he has to do is convince Chloe to make room for a mischievous trickster in her life, then disclose that in all the years they’ve known each other, he’s failed to mention his real name, his title… and the minor fact that he owns her entire village.
Only one thing can go wrong: Everything.

My Review:

I couldn’t settle down to read any of the things I had planned this weekend (Gee, I wonder why?) and this looked like fun and fluff, and this was a good weekend to read something about a woman of color with agency in a time and place where it wasn’t the norm, because, again gee, there’s a lot of glass lying around from all the ceilings that got broken over the weekend.

The Duke Who Didn’t turned out to be the perfect thing to read this weekend. Not that it’s perfect, exactly, but that it had just the right mixture of fun, fluff, fantasy and romance to get me into it and encourage me to keep the smile that was already splitting my face.

There is just a bit of a fantasy feel at the beginning of The Duke Who Didn’t. That this story takes place in the southeast of England in 1891, in a village whose population is primarily British-Chinese seems just a bit outside readers’ expectations of late-Victorian era English-set historical romance. That the village has a well-known once-a-year contest – with slightly obscure rules – that temporarily explodes the population, sounds a bit like Brigadoon a place that only comes to life once a year. That’s not quite the situation here, but comparisons could be drawn.

That the contest has a basis in historical reality is kind of the icing on the cake. The story is definitely the cake. Or possibly it’s a delicious steam bun, a bao, filled with pork and exquisite sauce. Actually the story is a lot about the sauce. Because Chloe Fong is all about the sauce – especially when she’s trying not to be all about Jeremy Yu. And even when she is.

Escape Rating A-: I’m bringing in the rating early because this is a book that is just so much fun that I need to squee about the details. Not all the details, but enough to get you to pick up this book.

On the one hand, the community of Wedgeford doesn’t quite seem historically real, because of its mixed race, primarily Chinese-British, population. At the same time, I don’t care, although if such a community existed, I’d love to know. But if the options for representation in historical fiction involve a little bit of handwavium, I’m all for it. I don’t need historical accuracy in my historical fiction, I just need historical plausibility – and that is definitely present.

The story of the origins of Wedgeford as it exists in this story feels possible – maybe not likely – but possible. And it’s enough to make the leap into willing suspension of disbelief. Because the author doesn’t gloss over Jeremy’s, and Chloe’s, “acceptance” in the rest of British society – it’s every bit as awful as we imagine. The entire world isn’t different – just this one tiny corner of it.

A part of the premise of this story has been done before, and multiple times, including in A Duke in Disguise by Cat Sebastian. Jeremy Yu is the Duke of Lansing, the man who in fact owns the entire town of Wedgeford, lock, stock, barrel and every single house and building in the place. But his estate hasn’t collected rents in over 50 years, and he has no plans to ever start.

Jeremy has been coming to Wedgeford since he was 12 or so, once a year for the Wedgeford Trials. He’s never told anyone in Wedgeford that he’s the Duke. He doesn’t want anyone in Wedgeford to know that he’s the Duke, because they would treat him differently.

And he really, really doesn’t want to be treated differently. Wedgeford is the one place in England where he can be exactly who he is without apology, a young British-Chinese man who is proud of his heritage. ALL of his heritage and not just the bits that are acceptable to British so-called “polite” society.

In other stories, like the above mentioned A Duke in Disguise, the hidden Duke’s, well, ducalness, comes as a great shock to all when it is finally revealed. Jeremy’s story turns that on its head wonderfully in a way that I won’t reveal. It’s a way that should have been obvious to both Jeremy and the reader, but wasn’t. What it was was delightful. Absolutely.

Actually, delightful is the best word for the whole story. The portrait of the community is lovely, the trials themselves are an absolute hoot, and in the middle of it all is the oh-so-organized Miss Chloe Fong, her dreams, her ambitions and all of her lists, her love for her father and her need to help him get revenge on the British gentlemen who stole his work and his recipe and tossed him to the curb. And her lists. Have I mentioned her obsessive lists? Chloe certainly would. She’s never without them.

And then there’s the food. The descriptions of the food are absolutely mouth-watering, as is the romance between Jeremy and Chloe, the serious young woman and the trickster who adores her. To the point of willingly consuming endless meals of hot peppers in order to gain her father’s respect. Or at least his forbearance.

So come for the Trials, and stay for this saucy tale of love and tasty revenge. Revenge served not cold this time, but hot, flavored with the best sauce ever..

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