Review: A Duke’s Introduction to Courtship by Sophie Barnes

Review: A Duke’s Introduction to Courtship by Sophie BarnesA Duke's Introduction to Courtship (The Gentlemen Authors #2) by Sophie Barnes
Format: eARC
Source: supplied by publisher via NetGalley
Formats available: paperback, ebook
Genres: historical romance, regency romance
Series: Gentlemen Authors #2
Pages: 320
Published by Sophie Barnes on September 26, 2023
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKobo
Goodreads

Love caught him completely off guard and forced him to question everything…

When Brody Evans, Duke of Corwin, goes incognito at a printing press, he doesn’t anticipate meeting Mr. Michaels, a charming young man with whom he shares an instant connection. Soon he’s questioning everything he believed to be true of himself, while losing his heart in the process. Accepting the way he feels is not only hard, it’s also illegal and downright dangerous. Until he learns the truth and is forced to wonder whether or not the person he fell for is real, or just an illusion.

Dressed as a boy, Harriet Michaels acquires a job at a printing press so she can support herself and her younger sister. It seems like a good idea until she meets Mr. Evans, the new assistant editor. Her attraction toward him cannot be denied, but it must be concealed if she’s to avoid detection and the risk of losing her job. The more time she spends with him, however, the closer she comes to heartache and ruin. For as it turns out, Mr. Evans is not who he claims to be either.

My Review:

This second book in the Gentlemen Authors series has made the theme of the overarching story of the series more apparent while still giving readers a lovely historical romance. Although the romance isn’t nearly as frothy as readers often expect from a Regency romance – and is all the better for it.

There are two stories being told in parallel. The individual story in each book in the series, beginning with A Duke’s Guide to Romance, is the story of a romance between a duke in dire financial straits of his own making and a woman who has been forced to make her way in the world through her own hard work and and has chosen a rather unconventional way of going about it.

At the same time, the overarching story of the series as a whole is a fictionalized version of how a book made its way from being a glimmer in the author’s – or in this case authors’ – eye to being put in the hands of readers.

As this series began, the three dukes have finally gotten their feet back under them after their fathers’ sudden death in a cow pen explosion. Unfortunately along the way of their grief, they seem to have egged each other on in wasting much too much money, even as they held each other up emotionally.

The bills have come due. Ruinously so. Which is where their romance novel, A Seductive Scandal, comes in. They need a plan to make money even though most careers are closed to them, socially speaking. It’s just not done.

In the wake of Jane Austen’s recent death, there’s a vacancy in the publishing landscape that readers are crying out for someone to fill. The three dukes undertake to write a romance novel, à la the late Austen, and succeed beyond their wildest dreams as far as the readability of the book is concerned.

Their next step is to get the damned thing published, which is where this story begins. The Duke of Corwin, Brody Evans, walks by a printing press’ office and spies a ‘Help Wanted’ ad for an assistant editor, beginning immediately. He takes the job, planning to slip their manuscript into the slush pile after several days of doing the work and ingratiating himself with the owner.

He comes to enjoy the job far more than he ever imagined. He’s being paid a pittance from his perspective, but he’s being paid to READ ALL DAY. What’s not to love?

His enjoyment of the job is both increased and confounded by his surprising attraction to the company’s print compositor, Harry Michaels. Harry is the best the printing press’ owner has ever seen at the job, fast, efficient and accurate. He comes early, stays late and makes the whole place hum with productivity.

And he has a secret. Harry Michaels is really Harriet Michaels. A masquerade that she absolutely must keep, because she needs the money to support herself and her younger sister and knows that no job suitable for a woman will pay as much as any job reserved for men.

Which means that Harry must resist Harriet’s attraction for the new assistant editor, ‘Mr. Evans’, no matter how much she wants to give in, even as Mr. Evans’ attraction to Harry Michaels makes him question everything he thought he believed about himself, and wonder just how high a price he’s willing to pay for love.

Escape Rating A: A Duke’s Introduction to Courtship isn’t nearly as frothy a confection as A Duke’s Guide to Romance, and honestly it’s all the better for it. (Not that a good frothy romance can’t be utterly scrumptious as the first book is, but too much of a good thing usually results in a tummy ache – or in this case a headache – from overindulgence in too many sweets.)

We’ve already seen the situation that Brody and his friends are in. It’s not exactly life-threatening, but it is serious from their perspective. First of all, they’ve all been really stupid and they all regret it. They all miss their fathers who were taken from them MUCH too soon. What allows the reader to have sympathy for a group of men who are fantastically well off but merely not as rich as they could be comes down to the way they approach their situation. They are not thinking of themselves but rather of the people who depend on them, and that’s a position that is easier to respect.

What makes this entry in the series work, and also be more serious at the same time, is Harry/Harriet Michaels’ considerably more dire straits. Harriet and her sister are on the knife-edge of poverty. Harriet’s masquerade as Harry makes their situation survivable but just barely. All it will take is one slip and they’ll both be off to the workhouse or working on their backs. Or dead and that seems the most likely. A fact that is brought home to Harriet when Lucy gets sick and Harry is beaten and robbed on the way to fetch a doctor. A doctor that Lucy still needs but that Harry can no longer afford to pay after the robbery.

Harriet is caught between a rock and a hard place, or perhaps a better description would be between Scylla and Charybdis, with sea monsters to either side and slippery rocks underfoot the whole way.

The way that Harriet’s necessary deception leads to Brody’s soul searching added something very special to the whole story, giving his portrayal considerably more depth than might have been expected. Not that this particular scenario hasn’t happened before, and hasn’t been used well, most recently in Jane Dunn’s An Unexpected Heiress, with Cat Sebastian’s Unmasked by the Marquess and even the classic movie Victor/Victoria using the same idea to terrific effect.

Brody’s decision that he loves Harry and damn the consequences, and his subsequent confusion and even sense of betrayal when Harry turned out to be Harriet after all gave the story its final bit of tension AND made Brody’s stake in the situation come much closer to equal Harriet’s than might have been expected.

I’ve written more about this book than I expected because it turned out to be several cuts above what I expected when I started it. I expected froth and fun. What I got went a bit deeper on multiple fronts and still managed to deliver a very satisfying happy ever after at the same time.

I’m really looking forward to the final book in the Gentlemen Authors series, A Duke’s Lesson in Charm, coming next month. Especially since this book should finally reveal to readers just how well the ducally-written romance does at the booksellers!

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