Genre: Historical: European, Romance
When I first told Sarah I wanted to review The Heiress Gets a Duke, her response was, “But that’s a historical romance.” Yes, correct. Spot on. And, having worked with her for nearly a decade now (whoa!) it’s a fair point. I’ve been open about my aversion to historical romances. It’s not for any personal reasons, but often the tone isn’t for me and I overindulged when I first started in the genre. It’s rare that one ever gets more of a meh from me, so I try not to review them because I don’t think it’s fair to the book or myself.
I SAID HOWEVER.
This book gave me such a jolt of nostalgia just from reading the cover copy that my curiosity took over, driving the bus straight into Bad Decisions Book Club territory. It’s a tropey masterpiece that combines two of my favorite things: It Happened One Autumn by Lisa Kleypas (my favorite of the Wallflowers series) and a Sad Historical Businessman. I have such a catnip fix for brash American women and stuffy Brits. Maybe one day, I too, will find a British aristocrat to scandalize with my boorish American nature.
August Crenshaw is the eldest daughter of her family and heiress to a profitable iron works company. After witnessing the turmoil her best friend experienced in an arranged marriage to a dukeAugust is completely turned off by the idea. Besides, August wants to continue her work as a risk assessor for the family business and for her father’s investments, and those ambitions seem completely at odds with being married off. Which, fair.
Evan Sterling, the Duke of Rothschild is the aforementioned Sad Historical Businessman™. With his responsible older brother dying quite suddenly, his mother becoming a widow, and twin sisters about to debut, he’s a bit up shit creek without a paddle, especially as the family’s finances are in terrible standing. He and his mother have tried nearly everything to gain back some meager fortune, but to no avail. Evan has even taken up prizefighting to win some extra money. Both agree that marrying an heiress is the only way and the prime candidate is Violet Crenshaw, August’s younger and much sweeter sister.
As August is of a stronger fortitude than Violet, she takes her sister’s place to be Evan’s golden goose of sorts. And there we have it, folks! The setup.
I cannot say enough good things about August as a heroine. While at times it’s bittersweet to witness her realizations about her place in the world, she’s also quick with a wry (and very meta) observation about men, especially romance heroes.
After August confronts her father about his plans to marry Violet off, she begins to wonder if she’s tricked herself into thinking that her parents were somehow different than their social climbing peers who see their daughters as bargaining tools:
He said it as if her [Violet’s] writing was a mere hobby and not something to be considered a serious pursuit. But then far more insidious thoughts crossed her mind. Was this because Violet had been born a daughter? Did she have no other worth to him than something which he could barter? If he was willing to part with Violet so easily, did that also extend to August?
August had always believed that he found her advice to be genuinely helpful. He had always taken the time to include her in his work, marveling at her ability with numbers. Had she…Had she been little more than an oddity to him? A female who could add a column of numbers faster than his best clerk? No. She gave a shake of her head, refusing to believe it.
It’s such an acute betrayal. August bases her sense of self-worth on her gift with numbers and her business acumen. I felt August’s pain when her father, a man who seemed to support August’s talents, made her feel like a novelty, as if her skills were a magic trick or circus act.
August’s humor, wit, and the way winks and nudges were placed throughout the book for romance readers especially was absolutely delightful, like in these moments:
August knew very little about the English aristocracy, but she knew there weren’t many dukes among them.
This is August attending her first prizefighting bout:
Henry must have caught part of their conversation, because he leaned over. “No one knows his name. They call him the Hellion. He started fighting about a year or so ago and hasn’t been beaten yet.”
She nearly laughed aloud at the ridiculous name.
I love her so much!
Evan is slightly less interesting to me. He does fit rather neatly into the Sad Historical Businessman(™) box and that’s okay! I like that! But when compared to August, I would have loved a bit more of a spin on the trope. He has some very lovely scenes, though, especially with his mom.
There’s a part early on, where Evan and his mother agree that he’ll marry an heiress and they both have a quiet moment, reflecting on their situation and finding a bit of comfort in each other:
Rising to his feet as gracefully as his leg would allow, he hobbled over to the window to escape the tenderness in her gaze. The day was gray and dreary, and a light rain fell onto the cobblestones. Appropriate given his mood. “It hardly matters who is at fault, nor does it change the fact that I have done nothing to improve things.”
The silk of her gown rustled as she rose and walked up behind him. “You are right. The fault does not matter when we are the ones cleaning up the mess.” Her hand came to rest on his back, and she rubbed a small circle between his shoulders. He closed his eyes, remembering how she would visit the nursery every night to give them a kiss. William was always asleep, but Evan would lie there until she came so that she could rub his back.
“Believe me when I say that I understand how it feels to have a marriage arranged for you. I hardly knew your father. It was like marrying a stranger.”
It was a nice change from sad dukes who had a terrible home life and carry around lots of daddy issues. Though since I suppose it’s a rule universally acknowledged that at least one main character needs a shitty family, August drew the short straw here. As a reader, I’m tired of parents (namely fathers) struggling to see their daughters’ brilliance and worth.
Evan is, of course, charming and, yeah, I’ll admit that envisioning a sexy duke with dark hair and stubble boxing in breeches is an easy win for me. It works for a reason!
His first time talking to August is easily one of my favorite meeting scenes that I’ve read recently. August is dragged out to an illegal prizefight by her friend Camille. They’re heavily cloaked to hide their identities, given that the bout takes place in Whitechapel. During the excitement of the Hellion’s victory (obviously Evan Sterling here), August is pushed around during the fray and he catches her from falling:
“Thank you.” To her utter shame, her voice came out soft and barely discernible.
He grinned, revealing even white teeth and a smile that could have only been born from sin. “I hope you won.” His voice was smooth and deep with a cultured inflection.
She smiled, strangely quite willing to stand here with him. His scent surrounded them, sweat, certainly, but mixed with a faint cologne so that it wasn’t pungent. Her heart pounded in her chest. He was holding her so tightly she wondered if he could feel it. No man had ever made her heart pound before.
“I’m afraid I did not wager.” Her voice rose slightly so that he would be sure to hear her.
“A pity. I assumed you were the gambling sort.”
“Why would you assume that?”
His sensually formed lips made a perfect bow as he smiled. His eyeteeth were pointed, lending his smile a particular wickedness. “Because you’re here, Miss Crenshaw.”
He recognizes her?! Did I audibly gasp at that part? You bet your damn ass!
For the most part, Evan is a good dude. He learns of August’s reservations against marriage and feels conflicted during their betrothal. I get that I’m applauding a guy for doing the bare minimum in being a decent partner and considering August’s opinions on the institution of marriage, but I personally could use a break from domineering alphas (which is a sentence I thought I would never type).
I was charmed by this book. Completely. There were a few elements that I’m tired of seeing in romances because they bum me out like shitty dads underestimating their very intelligent daughters, but getting to know August and Evan both as people and then as a couple (some great communication and growth happens, folks!) was a rewarding experience. Like many of you, I had a tough 2020 and I haven’t been able to sustain and commit to reading for a long time. Just finishing this book was a big accomplishment, but really enjoying it because it brought me joy the entire time I was reading it felt like an even bigger victory. It ticked my catnip boxes. I emoted! (What a concept!) There’s something special about discovering a book like this and what it was able to do for me. I know Sarah I’m sure was happy to listen to me rattle off a bunch of excited words before our Twitch stream.
(Ed. note: I was!)
Also, if you need some sequel bait, here is the hero of book two:
A cigarette hung loosely from the side of his mouth, and his gaze was hard with censure. A mild panic seized her as she took in the impeccably groomed dark hair and cold gray eyes that belonged to none other than the Earl of Leigh. Violet had whispered about how striking he was when they had seen him at the opera last week. It was a beauty stained by wickedness, though enhanced might be the word many would choose. She imagined Lucifer himself would take his exact form if he decided to mingle with mortals.
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Amanda, the grade is missing for this book.
I’m ignoring my overflowing TBR pile and buying this book.
@Laurel – all fixed. Thanks for the heads up!
The title of this book put me off, but it sounds great.
(Also, excuse me while I go ogle that gif of Simon for the next 5 minutes.)
Okay, I bought it. I don’t need another book on my TBR pile and Harper St. George is completely new to me, but I am convinced, thanks to Amanda’s review that I must read it. These days I want the men to be smart and sexy too, not just the women.
On my TBR pile!
This sounds great! I will definitely be trying this book – I’m looking forward to it. Thank you for the review!
Was anyone else startled by the duke’s name? The Rothschilds have been such a famous family ever since the 18th century that I was really surprised to see their name used for a fictional duke.
Stephanie, yeah, that was…odd. I was kinda hoping for a Jewish hero! But Wikipedia says there’s an unrelated Scottish/Irish last name of ‘Rothchilds’ in the UK, soooo I’m going to ascribe it to that.
Oh, that’s interesting! Thank you for sharing it.
I was so distracted by the heroine being named August and the clearly 1950s dress/hair on the cover that Rothschild flew right past me.
I know historicals are their own form of fantasy, but I wish more authors would use era-appropriate names. And I wish publishers didn’t think that prom gowns from the 50s-80s were basically the same as historical gowns from literally any era.
August and Augusta are both in the top 200 names for the 1880s in America. And the surname Rothschild dates back to the 13th century in Europe. Plausible enough for me, on to the smooching!
Yes, but August is in the top 200 for boys, not girls. It doesn’t crack the top 1000 for girls until 2018, so it’s jarring to choose it for a female character. Obviously, any name is theoretically possible, but it still pulls me out of a book to have a name that is extremely unlikely for the time period. Plus, Augusta is right there, ready to be used, so I kept seeing it as a typo.
I get that I’m an annoying name nerd. I annoy myself every time I roll my eyes at Madison on a character born before 1984 or Samantha used in an historical.
Let me say that I know nothing about historical accuracy, so that’s certainly not a factor in my review, though I believe this is a Victorian era romance. Also, August is named after their grandfather (or maybe great grandfather), whose name was Augustus.
Just bought it. Thanks for the great review.
This sounds great, Amanda! Thanks for your thoughtful review.
Thank you Amanda. I bought this because every book I have read based on your recommendations have been ones I go back and reread when my brain needs TLC.
Miss Louisa, that made my week!
@ SusanH,I was curious about the name Samantha, and looked it up. Samantha was first recorded as a name in the southern US in 1800, so it’s been around a while, although not probably in Regency England. 🙂 Another interesting one is Tiffany as a female name, which has been around since medieval times. That one was a surprise.
Madison was a popular boys name in the US (top 1000) until about 1950. Anyway,name origins are fascinating.
That you don’t usually like historical romance somehow made it imperative to buy!??! Thanks Amanda.
I tend to eyeroll at Samanthas and Laurens in Regency romances. Those names are perceived as classics now, but they just were not used for Englishwomen during this time period.
Even names like Evan and Declan and Rhys on English nobility tend to stop me in my tracks. Why Gaelic/Irish/Welsh names on English lords? This really was not a THING at this point in time, and while the names may seem English and innocuous now in the US, they really weren’t back then. And then I find myself inventing an explanation of why an English Duke would have an inexplicably Welsh name – does he have a secret Welsh grandmother, were his parents uncharacteristically sympathetic to Welsh nationalist causes (contrary to their class and position)..?
And yes – Augusta is RIGHT there. August does seem a bit unlikely.
The name “Rothschild” being used reminds me of a piece of writing advice I saw on a blog that deliberately posts awful writing advice: “If you’re writing a novel that’s set centuries in the past, like in medieval times, then you can use the names of modern celebrities on your characters. If you name your characters Abraham Lincoln, Ernest Hemingway and Taylor Swift then your readers will instantly understand that these are just completely different people who happen to have the same name as them and it doesn’t mean anything.
Sorry Amanda, my device wouldn’t insert the smiley face
I loved it. Your review is spot on!
I read this book earlier this year and just loved it so much. It just hit all the right notes and romance beats for me. I’m very much looking forward to the next book and there are definitely a couple more characters who I hope get their own books, too.
Eagerly awaiting my library copy – your review made this go from “hrm, maybe vaguely interesting” to “into my hands, ASAP” so thanks for that!