A Most Unusual Duke by Susanna Allen
Shapeshifters of the Beau Monde #2
12/28/2021 by Sourcebooks Casablanca
Review by Iby
There was a lot to like about this new-to-me author’s voice and characters. Although this is the second in a series, it was fine to read as a stand-alone. The plot for this historical romance is definitely unique – think home improvement on a rustic British estate, but the duke is actually a werebear shifter and the heroine he is forced to marry is a widow who has a frosty public demeanor and a bad history with werewolves. Shapeshifters in historical settings with a competent heroine and a grumpy hero? Seriously, this is my catnip.
Unfortunately, the set-up did not quite live up to my expectations. Let’s start with the positive: overall, I loved a lot of the world-building, especially around the sleuth (or pack) for the bear shifters. I also really liked the secondary characters in this story. Ursella, the precocious child niece who fills a special role in the sleuth, was especially charming. I’d actually love to read an entire story about her.
Some things that I found troubling, that may bother other readers (slight spoilers and trigger warnings below):
- The heroine is led to believe in her first marriage that it’s her fault she cannot get pregnant. She comes to find out that in shifter culture, the male decides when to impregnate the female, and by praying and thinking magically, he can impregnate her. Definitely TW here for anyone struggling with infertility. It was a bizarre plot choice by the author, and not something that added any real value to the story.
- The sense of pacing was off. The plot meandered too much, and I was often stopping my reading to go do something else. A tighter plot with more action would have been beneficial.
- This was a lot of telling and not showing with the romance. I’m never fully convinced why the heroine would fall for another shifter – sure, the duke has big, sexy arms, but what else is driving her to consider him besides her willingness to make the best of an unfortunate situation?
- The writing is a bit stilted. There are a lot of overly complicated or tedious references to Shakespeare, and some word choices were obscure and not in a cute way. Instead of charming me, I was thrown out of the dialogue.
Ultimately, I really liked the creativity of the plot. A forced marriage of convenience, a secret shifter world set in a regency romance, and highly competent female characters are all an interesting mix… I just wish the execution of this concept was tightened. And, for all that is holy, let’s not use magical fertility mechanisms as a plot device.
Final grade: C+