Reviewed by Tori
Favorite Quote: “I simply cannot imagine choosing a life without you in it.”
Raphe Matthews and his two sisters, Amelia and Juliette, were forced into poverty when their father committed suicide and their mother disappeared. Raphe is ‘helped’ out by the local crime boss and ends up bare knuckle boxing to repay him. When a stunning reversal of fortune reveals Raphe to be the last in line for the title, Duke of Huntley, he is determined to succeed if only to see his sisters settled into a better life. And who better to help then his pretty next door neighbor.
Lady Gabriella has been paying for her sister’s fall from grace ever since she turned aside her engagement to marry an American tradesman. All eyes are on her to marry well and remove the taint from the family name. But the new Duke and his sisters need all the help they can get to bring them up to society’s standards though Gabriella knows agreeing to help them will only lead to her ruin.
The more time Gabriella spends with Raphe, the more she realizes that he is the only one for her. But when the past seeks to drag them both down in scandal, Gabriella has to decide if she is willing to give up everything for her most unlikely Duke.
A Most Unlikely Duke is a delightful confection of humor and charm that brings together an unlikely couple who have each suffered due to the actions of others. An intriguing opening scene hooks the reader up quick while the smooth and steady pace makes for an easy and enjoyable read. A solid main conflict is elevated by the various subplots Barnes sprinkles throughout though the tension and drama overall is lowkey. Heavily character driven, it’s the characters that brings this tale to life. The humorous dialogue kept me smiling throughout as Barnes introduces our hero and heroine. Gabriella is a delight; a seemingly proper and obedient woman whose outward gentle personality hides an intelligent, witty, and passionate individual. Ever since her sister Victoria brought shame on her family, her parents have turned all their attention on her, never failing to remind her that only she can save the family name. They have taken away all her choices and she feels more like an object than a person.
Raphe is an admirable and honorable young man who was forced to take on an adult role as a child due to his parent’s bad behavior. Living in St. Giles, Raphe boxed and worked the docks in order to support his sisters and pay off the debt his father owed. Unable to complete school, Raphe made sure he continued his lessons on his own, ensuring his sisters also knew how to read and write. When he is informed he is now a Duke, he is unsure how to respond. Scared and nervous, Raphe shows remarkable courage leaving the familiar of the slums and heading into a world where he knows he and his sisters could possibly be ostracized for their upbringing.
When Raphe and Gabriella meet, their attraction to instantaneous even though Gabriella is with her current beau. Gabriella returns to Raphe’s home with her mother and aunt and the resulting confrontation pushes Gabriella into helping Raphe’s family enter society. The more time these two spend together, their attraction blossoming, the greater Gabriella is pulled into Raphe’s family’s orbit and the possibility of her being with anyone else is impossible to even contemplate.
The romance is very soft, slow, and dreamy in its reveal. A few stolen kisses and lots of scorching looks is about all you’re going to get but it works. Gabriella is a lady and Raphe, despite his upbringing, is a man of honor. He wants her as his wife and he’ll do nothing to bring shame on to her. Of course, Raphe and Gabriella run into problems with her parents and her current beau, all of whom what Gabriella to do what they want, not what she wants.
A wonderfully personable and energetic cast of secondary characters infiltrates the storyline, adding humor and depth. Raphe’ sisters are well drawn out and the love that exists between the siblings reveals nicely in dialogue and actions. I love that Raphe isn’t forced into his new title with no one in his corner. His butler and secretary do what they can to help him become the man his title needs him to be and he develops a friendship with them despite their class differences. Gabriella’s parents (her mother) are all about status and stay true to form though eventually come around.
Barnes wraps up all her loose ends in a concise manner, giving readers reasonable explanations and doable results for certain situations. I did feel some of the explanations were entirely too easy for the situations at hand and in real life would have never worked out that way, but this is fiction and author’s prerogative rules.
A Most Unlikely Duke is an enjoyable lightweight historical romance filled with humor, love, and a teeny bit of angst. An entertaining introduction into what looks to be an enjoyable series. I am looking forward to book two, The Duke of Her Desire, which is Amelia’s book and slated to release December 26th.