A cornucopia is an emblem of abundance. We usually see cornucopias overflowing with fruits and vegetables representing a bountiful harvest as Thanksgiving decoration, but the cornucopia I’m imagining today is overflowing with books. Sometime a Tuesday arrives offering such bounty that it calls for a special celebration. March 27 is such a Tuesday.
I have a baker’s dozen of books on my must-read list for that day; I have read seven of them already. Beginning today and continuing over the next six days here at Just Janga, I’ll be reviewing five of the novels I have read. On the sixth day, I’ll recap two I have already reviewed on other sites, and on the seventh day, I’ll talk about the six books I’m still eagerly anticipating. That final day, I’ll also be giving away a copy of one of the March 27 romance releases (winner’s choice of book and format) to one randomly selected commenter from the first six days. So look for a new post each day this week, and be sure to comment for a chance to win one of these great books.
A Book to Celebrate: Day One
The Art of Duke Hunting
(Royal Entourage, Book 2)
By Sophia Nash
Release Date: March 27, 2012
Roman Montagu, seventeenth Duke of Norwich, is under a curse. Since the first Duke of Norwich’s marriage proposal and gift of dead ducks was rejected by a lady he then accused of being a witch, sixteen Dukes of Norwich have died at an early age and in “fowl” circumstances. Roman is resigned to his fate, but he wants to delay death as long as possible and he is determined that the cursed line end with him. He avoids water and ducks, otherwise enjoying his life as a member of the Prince Regent’s Royal Entourage. It is after the most scandalous shenanigans of this group that Roman finds himself in the last place he would choose to be—lashed to the rail of The Drake during a severe thunderstorm. His terror combined with the ravages of the Entourage’s notorious party renders him irrational.
His life is saved by Lady Esme March, the widowed Countess of Derby, who pulls him to safety inside her cabin, locks the door to prevent him from further endangering his life, and distracts him in a manner that successfully takes his mind off all thoughts of storms and death. The damaged ship manages to make its way to the nearest harbor, and Esme and Roman find themselves along with the captain of the ship isolated from the other survivors. Once Roman learns that the woman who saved him is a member of his own social circle, he does the honorable thing and offers marriage, but Esme has no plans to remarry. The two spend the next several days much in each other’s company, getting to know one another and liking what they come to know. But they expect to part and continue with their lives unchanged when they return to England. Prinny, whose major interest is rescuing himself from the consequences of the infamous party, has other ideas. He commands that Roman and Esme marry. Can these two independent people with clear plans for their lives let go of their fears and trust themselves and one another enough to confess their love and build a life together?
I loved Between the Duke and the Deep Blue Sea, but I think The Art of Duke Hunting is even better. Many of my favorite romance novels combine humor with poignancy, and Nash does so here with skill and emotional power. Roman is a multi-faceted character and a terrific hero, despite all the duck jokes. By the time I read Esme’s description of his “intelligent regal face full of angles,” I was half in love with him. His affection for his friends among the Entourage made him more attractive and I found his commitment to devising a way for London to have clean water admirable. His honesty with himself about the emptiness of his self-indulgent life was all I needed to believe him a hero worthy of the remarkable heroine Nash gives him. Even when he makes the wrong choices, his motive for doing so is clear, and his choices are in character for what the reader has come to know about him. And once he recognizes that he is wrong, he takes quick and dramatic action that leads to a sigh-worthy conclusion.
The secondary characters are superbly drawn and serve to complicate and enrich the story. The dukes of Candover and Abshire are provocative characters. I’m especially looking forward to Abshire’s story. I also liked the fact that the Prince Regent is an actual character who plays a pivotal role in the plot. I still chuckle when I think about the scene where he orders the marriage.
“Your Highness,” Roman said rubbing his forehead with one hand. “This is impossible. I am certainly not the man for Lady Derby. And she does not want to marry me.”
“And what does it matter what anyone wants these days? Do you think I want rotten potatoes thrown at my head every single morning? Do you think I want talk of revolution spreading through the country like wildfire on a summer afternoon? You are to be married, I say. Right this blooming moment, sod it all.”
I have no idea if the historical Prinny would have spoken these words, but I had no trouble believing the Prinny of Romancelandia would have.
But the heroine is what moved this book from a good read to a keeper for me. She is wholly delightful, not least because she is more than a conventional romance heroine. I love that she’s an artist who is passionate about her art. She values her independence. She loved her husband who taught her about pleasure and love even though she’s angry with him for choosing whiskey over her. One of my favorite lines is “The wallflower within her had never wilted.” She is an endearing combination of assurance and insecurity. She thinks of herself as “old at four and thirty, and worse, she was plain. And too tall. A wretched combination for a lady.” But she shows such courage when she stands up to her mentor, insisting upon her own artistic vision. Perhaps even more important, she is kind and large-hearted. Overall, she is one of the most engaging heroines I’ve encountered.
It’s not necessary to have read Between the Duke and the Deep Blue Sea to understand and enjoy The Art of Duke Hunting. In fact, the clearest explanation of what the Royal Entourage is, the very top A list celebrities of their day, can be found in the second book: “Every English lady worth her weight in smelling salts had a favorite member of the royal entourage, and Norwich had always been Esme’s since the night many seasons ago when she had first spied him entering a gilded ballroom in Mayfair—his mother on one arm, his ravishing sister on the other.”
So too can the account of the behavior of the Entourage on that night that scandalized a nation, a night when eight dukes, one archbishop, and the Prince Regent were involved in duels, lawn bowling in their underwear, “swimming amok with the swans in the Serpentine” in the company of “scantily clad females,” and other boisterous acts that led one of the dukes to miss his own wedding and gave Prinny many uneasy moments.
I recommend you read both books because Sophia Nash is a gifted writer whose books are a joy to read, but if you are going to read only one, I suggest The Art of Duke Hunting.
How do you feel about series? Do you start with the first and wait impatiently for the rest? Do you wait until all the books in a series are released and read them together. Do you read them out of order? Read some and not worry about those you missed? Or do you avoid series altogether?