Brighter than the Sun

Dancing At Midnight

Everything and the Moon

How to Marry a Marquis

Minx

To Catch an Heiress

 
The Duke and I by Julia Quinn
(Avon, $5.99, R) ISBN 0-380-80082-9
****
Lately, my faith in the quality of romance novels has been shaken. It seems that publishers have opted to sacrifice quality for quantity and I was paying the price (notice the five -- yes five! -- new releases that are currently on my nightstand waiting for me to finish them). I had begun to wonder if I hadnít outgrown it all, but then (thank goodness!) along comes Julia Quinn's latest release, The Duke and I.

The Duke and I is a refreshingly witty tale with a hero and heroine whose emotions are fueled by intelligence rather than by ungovernable body parts, although thereís plenty of that, too. Add in an interesting array of meddlesome family members and The Duke and I definitely ranks as a keeper.

Howís this for a tortured hero? Simon Basset, the present Duke of Hastings definitely has issues. As a child, he was at first unable to speak, and then forced to contend with a dreadful stammer. He overcame his disability in spite of his fatherís claims that he was an idiot. Rejected from early childhood by an over proud father who refused to accept anything less than perfection in his heir, Simon is determined to succeed at everything.

While this could have led him to become an unrepentant rake or arrogant and overbearing, Simon is a kind-hearted and good man. Only recently returned from six years traveling around the world, in part to spite his father, Simon is stunned to find himself hotly pursued by all of the ton's marriage minded mamas and their daughters.

So whatís a guy who has vowed never to marry to do? Why not enter a sham engagement with your best friendís sister, Daphne Bridgerton? The fourth of eight children and the oldest of four girls, Daphne has been on the marriage mart for two years and still hasnít received a proposal that she could seriously consider. More practical than romantic, she realizes that the likelihood of a love match is slim and would settle for liking her husband -- but so far no luck.

Gentlemen do like Daphne but, as she puts it, most of them see her simply as a friend and nothing more. So when Simon makes his outrageous proposal, claiming that once Daphne appears to be taken all those who overlooked her before would be forced to take a second look, she agrees.

Of course, the plan works splendidly at first. But Daphne quickly finds herself wishing that their attachment is real, and Simon is forced to constantly subdue his lustful urges toward Daphne -- emotions that are certainly forbidden when dealing with your best friendís sister. Naturally, both Simon and Daphne eventually lose the battle and give in to their budding feelings and, as these things go, are caught by her outraged brother.

From this point, the novel sheds much of the lighthearted fun that was so delightful at the beginning as it grapples with the coupleís problems and Simonís issues. It is a credit to Quinn that she was able to tightly weave together the hilarious with the serious without readers feeling as though theyíd switched novels. Without judging or placing too much blame, she has created a hero and heroine of admirable depth who actually think about their problems, not simply wallow in their angst in fabulously melodramatic style.

Daphne is a young, but smart, heroine able to quickly grasp the extent of Simonís burden. As a reader it is a relief not to be confronted by yet another young woman chaffing against societyís boundaries but instead, one who simply wants to marry and have children. And it is certainly refreshing to have a hero whose relationship with women and treatment of them isnít based on some relationship gone awry in his youth.

The secondary characters who mostly consist of Daphneís several brothers, sisters and her mother are charming and add volumes to the tale. My only quibbles are that the novel takes place start to finish in less than four months and that little is made of Daphne's own mistakes in their relationship.

Itís been a long time since I finished a book and found myself laughing yet sorry that I had read it so quickly. All I can do is say a heartfelt thank-you to Julia Quinn for restoring my faith in romance.

--Walaika Haskins


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