Saturday, May 24, 2014

The Duke in Denial by Alexandra Ainsworth

Title: The Duke in Denial
Author: Alexandra Ainsworth
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Cover Artist: Angela Waters
Genre: historical, Regency
Length: 80,500 words, est 275 pages
Formats: epub, mobi, print

Blurb: Sebastian Lewis never expected to become a duke. But with the sudden deaths of his cousin and uncle, Sebastian’s position changes. He is determined to fulfill his new responsibilities with grace, even if it means remarrying, and even if the attractions of women, so often lauded by poets, fail to interest him.

Captain William Carlisle, newly returned from India, is elated when he meets Sebastian. Nobody knows of his inclinations, but his harrowing experiences in battle have prompted him to reach for the type of companionship he longs for. He thinks Sebastian might feel an attraction as well, but to his dismay, he discovers that Sebastian is courting his sister Dorothea.

After a semi-arranged engagement and a disconcerting romantic tangle with William, Sebastian escapes London to look after his manor, only to face mysterious thefts, a headless ghost, and the arrival of his fiancée, her brother, and his family. Sebastian’s new estate sits on the south coast, England’s most vulnerable location, and Napoleon has set his sights on conquering the area. Amid this growing turmoil, Sebastian must sort out his feelings for his fiancée’s brother and keep his home safe . . . and determine if he has the courage to reach for his own happiness in the process.

England in 1804, at war with France, struggling to consolidate power in India, when Georgian ideals of piety and decorum ruled society. A woman’s reputation mattered as much as her fortune, and men could be hanged at the yardarm for consorting with each other.

Of course, all sorts of scandalous things still went on, though people were much more cautious about being caught. Such is the story Alexandra Ainsworth has given us. From a chance meeting while pursuing an errant hat, Sebastian and William have to overcome understanding what it is they want to being able to reach for it without the other taking offense. Because of the delicacy of this dance and the huge amounts of self-questioning, the story moves slowly. The two are thrown together often. Sebastian never expected to inherit the dukedom and the entailed properties, nor to find himself engaged to his cousin/predecessor’s fiancée. It’s a situation where secrets can fall out of closets like improperly stored skeletons, not played for laughs.

The sorting out of feelings, engagements, and mysteries set on the vulnerable southern coast fit well into the period, with no obvious anachronisms and with a lot of period detail in politics, attitudes, and décor. Some social details repeat, leaving me thinking, yes, I did catch that the first four times, and would have been better illustrated than told.

The pace picks up considerably in the second half, when Sebastian abruptly flees for his coastal property and is beset with external problems with staff, thefts, the ghost, and the difficulties of his new neighbor. William has an active role to play here, which enlivens the story.

The sex scenes are few and a little fumbly, which suits the story’s mood and the times, and made me smile. An incident where Sebastian and William find themselves in a quarter of molly houses (brothels with male sex workers) educates Sebastian considerably, but I wondered if a molly boy would persist in calling someone by name, no matter whose.

I was charmed with the resolution: the author finds everyone a happy ending in spite of the difficulties. Everyone needs an Aunt Beatrice. 3.5 marbles

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