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Book Review: A Duke, the Lady, and a Baby

New mother and recently widowed Patience Jordan is well aware that the world isn’t on her side especially since she’s a widow, a woman, an immigrant in the very xenophobic England of the Regency, and mixed race. Her son’s been taken from her, housed with a relative who’s more interested in chasing skirts than changing nappies. She’s been committed to Bedlam and only through luck and the determination of her cellmate was she released. Now she has to sneak into her old home to feed her son. She needs a miracle, and fast!

Enter Busick, the Duke of Repington. Grievously wounded in the Napoleonic Wars in Spain/Portugal, he has returned to England to assume control of his ward, Patience’s son Lionel. A strict and meticulous man, he soon finds his orderly world turned upside down by the infant and the woman thrust upon him to be his ward’s nanny. Worse, he can’t help but be attracted to her.

But as the weeks go by, the danger around them mounts. They must uncover the mystery surrounding Patience’s husband’s death before it is too late.

Okay first off some trigger warnings, because they are sorely needed. – TW: Suicide, TW: Period Appropriate Racism, TW: Period Appropriate Misogyny, TW: Child Abuse/Neglect, TW: Sexual Harassment, TW: Consent Issues, TW: Period Appropriate Sexism, TW: Body Trauma

There may be others I’m forgetting.

On to my thoughts!

I’d been looking forward to reading this book for a while. It has some of my favorite things: disabled characters, characters of color, cute plot kidlets, a mystery, a sort of enemies-to-lovers scenario, women supporting women. But upon reading the book, I can’t help but feel… I don’t know… disappointed.

Let’s break it down.

Things I loved: – Patience. I really really loved Patience. I loved the way she thought. I loved the way she was so determined to put the needs of her child first. I loved how she refused to back down even in the face of overwhelming odds. I thought her character voice was excellent, and I wish the whole book had been told in her head. (More on that later) – I loved the diversity in the characters of color. Pro-tip to authors, England was a lot more culturally diverse than you see in most historical shows/movies. It always has been. Take it from the scholar of History. I liked that the racism and inequality that they faced wasn’t swept under the rug. I also liked that all characters, whether of color or not, were described in the same way. It wasn’t othering. It was lovely to see.

– I loved the disabled representation and acknowledgement of disability aids. Wheelchairs, crutches, prosthetics, and various other period-appropriate mobility aids were in play. I loved that even minor characters had injuries. Wars of the time were messy… the medicine even messier. The understanding of Anatomy was still in its early phases. So any kind of injury could lead to disability. I’m glad to see that acknowledged. – Did I mention I loved the disability rep? I did. Because even better, the characters who are disabled aren’t seen as lesser than. They often have angst about their situation – very common when a traumatic injury or illness takes away or hampers a portion of someone’s life – but none of the characters spend their days navel gazing. I really loved the representation.

– I loved the women supporting women plotline. This book gets a Bechdel Test pass and a Mako Mori test pass.  Do you know how rare that is in romance?  So rare. So so rare. I am here for that. – The descriptions, particularly in Patience’s POV, are quite lyrical and lovely. Part of the reason why I want the story to be fully in her head. – I loved that the cover showed the hero’s disability (he’s an amputee).

So what didn’t I like? – The POV switches. Patience’s POV is told wholly in first person, past tense. It’s a very intimate choice, and one I agree with. However, Busick’s POV is told in the third person, past tense. And the story switches back and forth, often within the same chapter, were jarring. It wasn’t handled well, and it kept throwing me out of the story. It was a fourth wall break, and it decreased my enjoyment of the story. – The Hero. I didn’t like him at all. I found him sexist, overbearing, didactic, and unyielding. He often did similar things to the villain yet his actions were seen as “Good” while the villain’s were “Bad.” Here’s an example: He orders around the heroine and threatens her with taking her son away from her… the same thing the villain did. This is even after the reveal that she is not just a nanny but Lionel’s mother. I couldn’t forgive that. – There’s a huge, giant, gargantuan consent issue. As in the Hero keeps pushing for physical attentions while the heroine is out and out saying no. This is an automatic star drop.

– On the hero again, he’s jealous of any man who gets near her or who has her affections. This includes but is not limited to: her lawyer, a doctor, her dead husband, and her infant son. Jealousy is not an endearing trait. It’s a possessive one. – Continuing with the hero, he always has to win and be right… and there’s even a scene where he jeopardizes an infant to make a point to Patience. At this point in the story, I stopped rooting for him to get together with Patience and started rooting for her to leave. Or end up with her lawyer. Or her best friend… I’m down for some LBGT rep. – The romance. Like many other critical reviewers before me, I didn’t buy the romance. Busick basically went from mistrustful to obsessed in the blink of an eye. He kept insisting that because he cared for the heroine that she had to love him too. This was repeated over and over. As for Patience, she seemed mostly tepid toward him. Yes, she thought him attractive… but for the first portion of the book she was beholden to him to stay near her son, and for much of the rest she was focused on resolving the mystery surrounding her husband’s death.

– I’m not really fond of this cover as a whole. I like that the hero’s amputation is visible.. but it’s hidden and it’s nearly invisible if the image is not full-sized. I’m also not fond of how you can’t really tell the heroine’s race. I want to see more Black heroines in Regency romance. And I want to see Black faces on the cover. – A dropped thread regarding part of the mystery. It’s hand-waved away at the end, but that mars the HEA

So ultimately I’m torn about how to rate the book. Part of me wants to one-star it (for the consent issues, unbelievable romance, the designated hero trope, and jarring POV switches). While another part of me wants to celebrate the diversity in this book. The great representation of characters of color and disabilities. There were things I loved; there were things I hated. If this book had been wholly in Patience’s POV I likely would have liked it more.

But since it wasn’t and for the reasons listed above, I can only give this:

Three Stars

Thank you to Kensington and Net Galley for providing me with an ARC of this book.

If this is your jam, you can get it here. (JSYK there’s a lot of good in here, and I am really pro-supporting BIPOC authors which Vanessa Riley is. I’d recommend checking this book out from your local library via Overdrive or even in person.)

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