Reviewed by May
“I didn’t know such refined company would be aboard either.”
“I’m merely a countess, Your Grace. I’m-”
He interrupted. “I was talking about me.”
She frowned. “Of course you were.” She lowered her voice. “It’s what dukes do best.”
I find the title of this book misleading; there is no hunting of dukes. No, Esme March the Countess of Derby is a widow sailing off to see the world, paint, and expand her horizons as a very talented artist. She has no idea that aboard the same ship is Roman Montagu, the (cursed) seventeenth Duke of Norwich, nor does she plan to save his life and then have him heat up her sheets directly after! Also, I’m thinking she did not anticipate that the scandalous behavior Roman engaged in with his pals the night the ship left will have her shackled in a marriage of convenience that they must keep secret as well – by Prinny’s orders.
How is Roman cursed? Long ago the first Duke of Norwich angered a woman who cursed him and since then all the Dukes of Norwich die young- usually involving a bird. A secret weighs on Esme. She is the descendant of the woman who first cursed the Norwich line. She has always been fascinated by Roman Montagu, she is half in love with him as the story begins, and yet she can’t bring herself to tell him her connection to his family. She is concerned he will not see and treat her in the same way anymore if she does.
This secret, combined with Roman’s fear of boats and Esme’s desire to see the world, is the only conflict in this book. While it had a lot of great initial dialogue and I was intrigued to see where it would lead, the story lacked any intensity.
Both characters are smart, independent, and have exceptional artistic abilities. Unfortunately the initial impressions we get of them were never really developed. I didn’t feel like they had hidden depths revealed or that a great bond was being developed here. I didn’t get to know these characters better – they remained the same from page one, the difference being that on the last page they are married and in love.
Roman is by far the most intriguing of the characters – he is clearly haunted by the loss of his older brother. He is dedicated to solving London’s water issues. He is also very instantly supportive of Esme and her art. There are a lot of elements to a great character there, and he does a lot to win my heart and interest as a reader. He shows his growing care for Esme, we get glimpses of why he’s such a great man too. Ultimately, like the book itself, he falls flat. He gets to be overly perfect, too shiny and does everything just right and as you’d expect.
Esme on the other hand is terrified of alcohol – her first husband drank himself to death and he was utterly in ruins and disgrace when he finally died. She claims to have had great love with that man, and yet is mystified by the strange sensations (orgasm) she experiences with Roman. She defends her first husband as a great man, yet we never hear why he is such. She is also constantly complaining of how plain she is. We never hear any grand declarations of beauty from Roman – he never really thinks much about her attractiveness in fact – so I guess she really is plain looking.
There are moments of excellence, scenes that were so touching and rich, and then a lot of fluff, lack of development, and plot disappointment. We aren’t given deep emotion or angst, not much action or adventure, and it also is not a light comedy. This book lives somewhere between the light and the dark – and the grey area it occupies is indeed a lifeless place.
Clearly this book is part of a series (and the other men in the royal entourage will be featured in related books), and that part I found irritating. The tie-ins did little to add to this book, instead they felt more focused on convincing me I should read the other books for more detail. I do not enjoy when a series blatantly teases in this way. The final scene in the book I assume is characters from a previous work – and I could have done entirely without it as I don’t know (or care) about those characters at all.
Despite my many gripes about this book, I really did like the author’s voice. Her style of writing is one I really did enjoy and her dialogue was a lot of fun to read. I would try her novels again, though this series is not one I anticipate following.