Review: The Duke Undone by Joanna Lowell

Posted April 26, 2021 by Sophia Rose in Reviews / 20 Comments

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Review: The Duke Undone by Joanna Lowell
The Duke Undone

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Genres: Historical Romance
Published by Berkley
Released on April 6, 2021
Pages: 384
Format: eARC
Source: Publisher
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The Delight

In a romance meet-up for the ages, an artist paints a nude based on an unconscious man in an alley and that painting leads him to her art studio. Awkwardness, anger, and a mutual deal is struck. Can a dissipated man fighting the nightmares of his past and an artist in need of financial assistance find their way to love? I was excited to get back my historical romance mojo with this new to me author and start of series.

Review

Lucy Coover lives and breathes her art, but in Victorian Era London, she doesn’t have a chance at seeing a real male body. So, imagine her excitement to come across a fine specimen of the male form passed out cold in an East End alley. She does the right thing, but can’t get the image out of her mind so she does the unthinkable and paints him and then sells the painting pretending to be a man. The money will help her family keep a roof over their heads a little longer and the experience will help her art so she can succeed at it for a career. What could be the harm?
Meanwhile Anthony Phillby, the new duke, from a notorious family and rather rakish on his own part can’t afford a scandal right now based on the demands of his father’s will. He needs his inheritance to set straight what his older brother and father ruined so has to make it until age thirty which is coming up soon without a scandal- and he is being watched. He desperately needs to find his sister who has disappeared. Years in the army, years in a highly dysfunctional family, his mother’s suicide and wars abroad wear on him and leave him dependent on alcohol. If he can keep this infernal nude painting that is obviously him from getting talked about and stop the artist from wrecking more havoc in his life…
Apparently, they can come to a mutual understanding. He’ll financially assist Lucy and help with the housing situation for the poor. Lucy will help him search for Effie. The search for Effie turns out more dangerous than imagined as do the troubles swirling around his new ascension to the dukedom so they draw closer together and forge an unexpected connection that goes beyond attraction.

The Duke Undone was something of a surprise to someone like me who had read mostly old school historical romance. Some of the newer authors are really taking off the rose-tinted glasses when it comes to this genre and giving their characters and situations some serious flaws. The story has a gritty quality and it raises the steam level right from the start. Anthony isn’t just a rake in name only nor was his brother and other family. Anthony’s crutch in dealing with it all is drink and unfortunately, Lucy is well aware of what alcoholism will do to a man and those around him since she grew up with an alcoholic father. This is one of the conflicts between them. The book explores so much- in fact, it might have taken on too much so that it was hard to focus on it all.

The book talks of poor housing issues, women and their struggle with the Royal Academy of Art, alcoholism, insane asylums (shudder), PTSD and war, family issues, suicide, class differences, and more.
The author definitely knows her way with a pen. Her descriptions of setting, filling in backdrop and characters was all with depth and emotion. I agonized a little over the romance conflict between this pair who truly struggled separately and together. It is romance so I knew there would be a resolution, but I had no idea how it would come about because Anthony was such a mess and Lucy had her own struggles that didn’t play well together.

There is a villain who will do what it takes to make them fail and, at first, they don’t even realize the danger. Lucy drove me nuts at times. Not because of what she thought and felt, but her action choices weren’t always the best. She did increase the tension in both the romance and suspense part of the conflict as a result. But, I actually didn’t mind, for once, because I felt it balanced out against Anthony’s flaws.

All in all, this was a wonderful start. I saw that there will be a series for some of the side characters and I’m glad. They were as fascinating as the main pair and I’d like to see them get their stories. So, this spicy, tempestuous Historical Romance got a little darker and grittier, but there was depth and complexity. I would definitely recommend it to those who like this style for the genre.

I rec’d an eARC of this book from Berkley Romance to read in exchange for an honest review.

 

Challenges Met

COYER Seasons #31
Romance BINGO #21 ‘Duke’ in title

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I was born and raised near Sacramento, CA. I have read since I was four years old and developed tastes that run the gamut of literature. I went away to college and have a degree in education, a certificate in family history research, and a certificate in social work. I worked for a non-profit agency with low income families for 20 years which included being responsible for the children’s library and promoting/teaching adult literacy. I have lived in Southeast Michigan for the last 18 years and I am currently a book addicted homemaker with a cat and husband who keep me grounded. Recently, I made it a challenge to review each book that I have read as a favor to author friends who said reviews are important. I have done reviews for Good Reads, Amazon, eBay, and Smashwords, but mostly at Goodreads and Amazon.

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Christina Morland
4 months ago

Great review, Sophia Rose! I’ve noticed this trend to take on a lot in both historical and contemporary romances. And while I love to see authors go in depth with really serious issues (especially some of the historical inequities that are otherwise easy to “ignore” in a romance), I do think it’s very difficult to balance the requirements of the genre (HEA in 300 pages or less!) with a desire to explore these topics well. Anyway, thanks for bringing this title to my attention. Looks fascinating!

Sophia Rose
4 months ago

Thanks, Christina! Good point, there are more addressing of issues these days in fiction. Yes, that imbalance with the character and romance development did make it tough to focus at times. Hope you like it when you get the chance.

Debbie Haupt
Debbie Haupt
4 months ago

ooh scandalous, this is going on my wishlist Sophia Rose

Sophia Rose
4 months ago
Reply to  Debbie Haupt

LOL, yes, it does scintillate. 🙂

Mary Kirkland
4 months ago

Being a woman in that time would have been a real struggle but it sounds like they both had it hard.

Sophia Rose
4 months ago
Reply to  Mary Kirkland

You said it, Mary. This story really made me see that clearly.

vvb
vvb
4 months ago

The premise seems fun and funny at the start, but the story sure does go into dark areas.

Sophia Rose
4 months ago
Reply to  vvb

Yes, that is exactly what I experienced and had to adjust. They sure went through a lot. 🙂

Melliane
4 months ago

Oh you made me curious about this one now!

Sophia Rose
4 months ago
Reply to  Melliane

Heh, heh, glad to tempt you, Melliane. 🙂

Nadene
4 months ago

I am intrigued.

Sophia Rose
4 months ago
Reply to  Nadene

Heh, heh, doesn’t it sound great?

Kimberly @ Caffeinated Reviewer

Wow this tackles quite a few issues.

Sophia Rose
4 months ago

I know. I think it numbed me after a bit even while my mind and heart were racing over it all. 🙂

Carole @ Carole's Random Life

Oh, this one is new to me. I do like the sound of this one. It sounds like this book had some fantastic characters and tackled some important topics.

Sophia Rose
4 months ago

It was a great find and I enjoyed trying a new author. The story was captivating.

Jen
Jen
4 months ago

Wow. this one sounds like a winner even with the romance issues and Lucy being a bit … Flaky?! Thanks for sharing.

Sophia Rose
4 months ago
Reply to  Jen

She had a few dumb gutsy moments during the danger times, but yes, it was a fab read. Definitely worth it, Jen!

Carole Rae
4 months ago

What a refreshing-sounding story! 😀

Sophia Rose
4 months ago
Reply to  Carole Rae

It sure was. I think it will make a great gateway book for those coming from racing contemporaries to historical romances.