Published by Berkley
Released on April 6, 2021
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.
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.
COYER Seasons #31
Romance BINGO #21 ‘Duke’ in title
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