Book Review

The Duchess Deal by Tessa Dare

The Duchess Deal by Tessa Dare is a fairytale Regency that blends Beauty and the Beast and Cinderella and Batman.

Seriously. And it’s amazing.

I actually read it twice. The first time I was at home on a Friday night, enjoying a few rum and Cokes and unwinding. Apparently I can have exactly two drinks before I start loving everything and then forgetting I loved it.

I woke up the next morning surprised to see that Drunk Elyse gave it five stars on Goodreads because I didn’t remember the end. I opened it up to a random chapter and was like, “Who the fuck is Trevor?”

So I read it again. But Drunk Elyse was right the first time. The Duchess Deal is full of Feels, and a hero who has his head up his ass, but is not completely oblivious to it. And it’s laugh-out-loud funny.

Emma Gladstone was kicked out of the house by her vicar father when she was found having sex with a young man. She walked all the way to London on a frozen winter night (losing a toe in the process) and pieced her life back together as a seamstress.

When the book opens she’s just completed the wedding dress for the Duke of Ashbury’s bride-to-be; unfortunately the wedding was canceled and Emma shows up at the Duke’s door to demand payment for the dress she spent so much time on.

Ash pays her, and offers her another deal as well. He was horribly wounded when a rocket went off near him at Waterloo, and as a result one side of his body and face is badly scarred. His fiancée broke their engagement off when she saw his injuries, and now he’s torn between wanting to spend his time brooding in the dark and knowing that he still needs an heir.

So he proposes to Emma. Sort of.

He sets the rules:

  • They will have sex at night – no lights, no kissing – until she produces an heir.
  • She and said heir will then go live in the country completely apart from Ash.
  • She will not ask about his scars or touch them or even think about them too hard.

Emma agrees because she doesn’t feel like dying in poverty when she gets old and her eyesight fails and she can’t sew anymore, but she immediately goes about making their marriage an actual partnership rather than the nonsense he’s proposing.

I love it when a hero is being all broody and struggling with his man-feels and the heroine is like, “Right, you can go sulk in the corner if you want, but I’ve got stuff to do.”

He’s all like “Look at my horrible, monstrous visage!” and she’s all, “They’re scars dude, chill the fuck out. You’re upsetting the cat.”

Emma is never appalled or frightened by Ash’s appearance. She accepts it almost immediately and as she begins to fall in love with him, it barely registers. It’s Ash who can’t move past the way he looks.

And while Ash does spend time sulking, he’s still pretty upbeat all the things considered. I got the impression that he liked the idea of being a monster rather than actually being one.

Like the rest of Dare’s books, The Duchess Deal is full of snappy banter and teasing and moments of utter and delightful silliness.

Such as feline interuptus. Emma and Ash are about to consummate their marriage when Ash senses an intruder in the room:

How the devil had someone slipped in?

Never mind, he told himself. That question could wait. The more pressing inquiry at hand was this: How was he going to kill the bastard? He mentally ran through the available weapons in the room. The fireplace poker would be most effective, but was out of reach. The sash of his dressing gown could make a decent garrote, in a pinch.

If needed, he’d fight hand-to-hand. His only concern was keeping Emma safe.

He rolled to his side and came to his knees, putting his body between her and the threat. “You have three seconds to leave the way you came,” he ordered. “Or I vow to you, I will snap your craven, knavish neck.”

The intruder struck first, leaping forward with a fiendish yowl.

Something that felt like a dozen razor-sharp barbs pierced straight through his nightshirt, digging into his shoulder and arm. He gave a stunned shout of pain.

Emma flung back the bedclothes. “Breeches! Breeches, no!”

The cat?

Claws. Teeth. Hissing.

The cat.

I don’t think I’ve ever read a romance novel yet where the hero and heroine have been interrupted by their pet, which is wild because I’m pretty sure everyone with a cat or dog has experienced this delight.

I also liked the fact that even though Ash spends a fair amount of time having a pity party for himself, he’s still pretty aware of the people around him and he’s never intentionally hurtful.

In this scene he and Emma are preparing to go to the theatre (a huge step for him):

She remained at the top of the staircase, hesitant. Well, and why wouldn’t she be. She was about to go out in public accompanied by a hideous monster in evening attire. One who flung hats and walking sticks about at random intervals.

“If you’d rather not,” he said, “it’s all the same to me. I’ve a report from the Yorkshire estate to look over.”

“Would you prefer to stay home?”

“Only if you prefer it.”

“I want to go. I should say, I’d hate to waste Mary’s efforts.” She touched a gloved hand to her hair.

What a horse’s ass he was. She wasn’t hesitating because she was concerned about his appearance. She was waiting for him to compliment hers.

A moment later:

Ash offered her his arm, and she took it. He escorted her down the staircase and out to the waiting carriage, mindful of her voluminous skirts, but never pausing. He refused to give any appearance of reluctance.

Tonight, it didn’t matter that he was scarred and hideous and would prefer to hide from society.

Emma deserved to be seen. And this night was for her.

I also liked that there was a really solid foundation for Ash’s Wounded Feels that didn’t come entirely from Ash being self-conscious regarding his scars.

Click for spoilers!
His breakup with his fiancée was truly painful and awful, and the rules about no lights, no kissing, seeing each other only at night and until she’s pregnant, and then living apart were originally the rules she set if they were still to be married.

And because we’re not done with the awesomeness, Emma becomes friends with some amazing (slightly eccentric) ladies who live nearby and are clearly sequel-bait. Female friendships FTW.

Now, I bet you’re thinking “But Elyse, you mentioned Batman earlier. Please explain.” When he’s brooding Ash walks the streets at night and, after chasing off some thugs who are robbing a woman, gets named the Monster of Mayfair by the press. The Monster’s nightly appearances get either exaggerated or entirely made up, and earn Ash the affection of a boy who is determined to be Robin to his Batman. It’s all adorable.

So I totally recommend reading The Duchess Deal, but preferably while sober so you can really appreciate all of it. It’s the perfect blend of two of my favorite fairytale tropes, it’s got a hero who never an alpha-hole, it’s funny, and it’s got female friendship. What more could you want?

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The Duchess Deal by Tessa Dare

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  1. Katty says:

    Oh, this sounds delightful! I’ll have to consult my book budget…

  2. Lora says:

    YAY! I need this in my life today.

  3. Veronica says:

    So this book was definitely a Bad Decisions Book Club read for me last night, and I have few regrets.

  4. SB Sarah says:

    I love the image of you blinking at the daylight the night after release day, coming out from under a blanket and hollering, “It was WORTH IT!” All the coffee and tea to you, ma’am!

  5. Helen R-S says:

    Elyse – there’s a “kitten interruptus” moment in Rogue Spy by Joanna Bourne.

  6. Frances says:

    I adore all of Tessa Dare’s work, but you had me at Batman.

  7. Caro says:

    *reads review* Sold, sold, and triple sold!! But oh noes, Kobo and Amazon UK have the e-book marked as on release in Dec. Wait, no problem, says I, head to to get it. What? It’s also marked for release in December? Why then I must check out the physical copies. Okay, Amazon. com have it in stock but surely it’ll be faster to order it via Amazon UK. WWWHAATT? They don’t have the actual book until October???

    But I wants it now, Preccioussss!

    This post has been brought to by the fact that even though I am an adult, I am still an Only Child who is not good with waiting for stuff she wants RIGHT NOW! Ahem. Happy reading, ladies, I shall bide my time patiently (hah!) until I get my own copy.

  8. Julia aka mizzelle says:

    Yeaaah, Tessa posted an update on her twitter for the UK & AUS fans. The Australian ebook was having distributor issues and wasn’t showing up in iBooks/Amazon but was being worked on. UK fans have it a wee harder. The series was bought by Mills & Boon. While the subsequent books in the series will be released at the same time as US, the first book… won’t. I don’t know which is the “real” release date unfortunately.

  9. Ginger says:

    @Caro. Click the link under the review. It’s available there! (At least on Amazon. I didn’t check the others.)

  10. Caro says:

    @Ginger, It is there! Oh dear, I’m having dinner tonight with my mother, wonder if she still has that ‘no reading at the dinner table’ rule. This could get awkward…

  11. tikaanidog says:

    you guys are sooo bad for my budget (*click! bought*). and Caro, I suddenly have an image of you turning into a round blueberry person as you read! LOL!

  12. CelineB says:

    I got this last night with Harlequin Reward points, but wasn’t planning on reading it right away. I may have to change my plans.

  13. Herberta says:

    Ok, I just spent my morning reading this, and I am left with one question: What happens to Davina? I have to know!

  14. Ellie says:

    It downloaded onto my Kindle this morning. I have a car trip later this week (husband will be driving). I can wait. I can wait.

  15. MHV says:

    Tessa Dare should just take all my money at this point. I was trying to resist but one clicked it!

  16. Karla says:

    Sold, and maybe because of the feline interruptus, yes, we all DO have a story to tell there…

  17. LauraL says:

    Checked my library hold and I am #21 in line for five copies. Sigh. After reading Elyse’s review and everyone’s comments I suddenly feel the need to pamper myself with a new book.

  18. cotterpinx says:

    Vacation on Sept 2… 1-clicked, now to ignore Kindle until then!!
    The Struggle Is Real!

  19. Crystal says:

    I preordered this months ago. It is a testament to the fact that the Half-Drowned King is really good that I haven’t tossed it aside to get all up in this.

  20. ClaireC says:

    I loved loved loved this book! I marked so many funny and touching quotes, cracked up on the subway, and have three friends waiting to borrow my copy. Her eccentric lady friends are the best, and I can’t wait for their stories as well. And maybe Trevor’s, when he grows up a bit?!

    It’s a testament to how much I love Tessa Dare that I didn’t cancel my ebook order when I found an early paperback copy a while ago. I need this in all the formats!

  21. I love your review!! Now I really wish the library would hurry up all ready but if I see it at the store i just might cave. Thanks!

  22. sb says:

    What more could I want? One more thing. The one Dare I’ve read was wallpaper historical. Are all her books like that? I’ve heard they are, but just want to make sure before I pass on this one. Thanks.

  23. Giedre says:

    For readers who can’t wait to read this one and are outside US, bookdepository has paperbacks in stock. The shipping is free worldwide. Hallelujah. Because I almost cried when I couldn’t get the ebook on this fine release Tuesday.

  24. LMC says:

    Only 20% in (damn you, work and family!) but so loving it and needing after my crap day!
    “Banking the Billionaire” had pig interuptus.

  25. Jill-Marie says:

    And … it’s on Audible! Thank you book fates!! I know what’s up next.

  26. Katty says:

    @sb: What do you mean by wallpaper historical? If you are asking for historical accuracy then, no, you are unlikely to find that in Tessa Dare’s books. But as alternate-universe, “Fantasy Regency” romance novels, they are a delight.

  27. Emily C says:

    I cut my romance novel teeth on Tessa Dare (thank you to the pop culture happy hour romance novel episode!) and completely forgive any historical inaccuracy for the snappy dialogue and scrappy heroines that run through her novels. For me, her books are like the best romantic comedies and I consume them in the same way.
    This is my catnip in all the ways and I’m trying my best to hold off for the weekend when I have free reign to binge.

  28. Lynnette says:

    I read this yesterday, and I absolutely loved it! Loved Emma and Ash and watching their relationship develop. And it was funny and touching and . . .

  29. Maureen says:

    I also read this yesterday, and I thought it was delightful. I was sad when I was done, it was so good. This book made me laugh-numerous times!!

  30. Jill-Marie says:

    I’m back to say that I started the audiobook today and could get through only chapter one because I was laughing, going back, laughing, going back … it make take me a while to listen to the whole thing, but I will be having fun!

  31. Lindsay says:

    I have never before heard the terms “historical wallpaper” OR “fantasy regency” THANK YOU LADIES. @sb @katty

    @EmilyC Also, a shout out to the BEST EPISODE EVER OF PCHH is never remiss!

    I’ve decided Tessa Dare books are like donuts- delicious, not regrettable, but sort of forgettable. This book actually had a few moments I think will stick with me. One being her description of infatuation as a song with just one word- that part was great, totally a quick fun way to capture that feeling.

    My one critique is her use of supporting characters. I feel like she gives her supporting characters just enough depth to highlight how superficial they are. In her spindle cove series I think the recurring people help create more depth and in romancing the duke there are basically no supporting characters but in this book it felt like one group could have been omitted- the girlfriends, davina, the servants, or trevor. None got quite enough page time to make me really care, just enough to be distracting. Dare’s talents lie in the crackle between the main characters so I think she should stick with the tendency to let the rest be a little hand wavey.

    Overall, a quick fun glazed donut read!

  32. Starling says:

    I adored this book. I always giggle in public when I read Tessa Dare’s books, and this was no exception. The servant conspiracy! The pet names! SHAM SANDWICH, Y’ALL.

    When’s the next one coming out? I want it nooowwwwwww.

  33. Maggi M says:

    I think this is one of her funniest. I loved it. Trevor nearly steals the show (“you’ve been …. menaced”), and Khan is right behind him (“I was supposed to dodge”). My ipad died right at the last few pages, so I’m walking around the kitchen going “Where’s my phone? Have you seen my phone?” One of the kids was doing homework next to me at the kitchen counter: “Must be a kissy-kissy book.” A Week to Be Wicked is still my favorite (Millicent, Melinda, Marilyn), but this one is near the top of the list.

  34. Meredith says:

    I really enjoyed this book. The interplay with Khan was pretty funny. (I just kept picturing Khan with a grumpy cat look on his face. Ash wanted him to be Alfred and Khan Was. Not. Having it!)

  35. Melanie says:

    There is nothing like a cold wet nose in your nether-parts to cool your ardour…

  36. Suzanne Woodyard says:

    M headed to Barns and Noble. If you give it an A on a second read, it’s really good.

  37. Zulma says:

    I love it too!

  38. Aimee says:

    Never stop being you. I love everything ya’ll write – everyone’s recommendations are now my instant one clicks to the TBR pile I have amassed.

  39. Megan says:

    This was my first Tessa Dare read. I have read all the Spindle Cove series and am currently into book 2 of Castles series. She is awesome.

  40. Christina McPants says:

    Well this is a review that made me buy the book!

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