What’s a duke to do, when the girl who’s perfectly wrong becomes the woman he can’t live without?
Griffin York, the Duke of Halford, has no desire to wed this season—or any season—but his diabolical mother abducts him to “Spinster Cove” and insists he select a bride from the ladies in residence. Griff decides to teach her a lesson that will end the marriage debate forever. He chooses the serving girl.
Overworked and struggling, Pauline Simms doesn’t dream about dukes. All she wants is to hang up her barmaid apron and open a bookshop. That dream becomes a possibility when an arrogant, sinfully attractive duke offers her a small fortune for a week’s employment. Her duties are simple: submit to his mother’s “duchess training”… and fail miserably.
But in London, Pauline isn’t a miserable failure. She’s a brave, quick-witted, beguiling failure—a woman who ignites Griff’s desire and soothes the darkness in his soul. Keeping Pauline by his side won’t be easy. Even if Society could accept a serving girl duchess—can a roguish duke convince a serving girl to trust him with her heart?
I know, right? Finally! I am so behind the times, everyone and their spinster aunt has read Any Duchess Will Do (ADWD) by now. I was really looking forward to ADWD despite not having read any of the previous Spindle Cove series, although I think all of the novels (like many series) are perfectly enjoyable as stand-alones.
Now I feel I must give a quick disclaimer before I begin this review in earnest - I honestly don't know what to make of ADWD. On one hand I did enjoy reading the novel - Tessa Dare is undoubtedly one of my favourite historical romance authors - and on the other hand the plot is considerably arbitrary and unrealistic. As you'll know from other reviews I sometimes find it quite hard to overlook this 'poetic license' in historical romances, for me my enjoyment of a historical novel is, to a degree, inextricably tied up with the historical accuracy (or just plain probability).
Pauline (possibly one of the stranger heroine names I've seen of late, although I do like the name) is a bold and strong willed heroine who has dreams of supporting herself and her sister, escaping her abusive father. Griff is a man haunted by his recent loss determined not to marry, despite the best efforts of his scheming mother. In an attempt to thwart his mother Griff decides to select Pauline as the subject of her proposed 'duchess lessons', she is "perfect" for failing the role - graceless, common and coarse. What follows is the strangest mix of Cinderella and My Fair Lady that you're likely to read.
Griff and Pauline's romance spans a week, nothing unusual by romance novel standards, and develops fairly typically. The unpolished nature of Pauline's attitude appeals to Griff who has seemingly been rejected by society which he, in turn, treats similarly. This part of the novel did confuse me, I don't think Dare adequately explains at any point the mutual feelings of disregard between Griff and society and the idea that no one will marry Griff is preposterous, he's a handsome duke! Griff's mother, the instigator of the 'any duchess will do' plot, is the most baffling character. I honestly don't know what to make of the dowager duchess, she is utilised by Dare as the comic relief and yet she and her son also have a reputedly deep familial bond, marred by a lack of communication - a plot point which Dare completely fails to sell to me at all.
The romance in the novel is undoubtedly sweet, with some particularly steamy scenes for those wondering. Griff's defence of Pauline is heartwarming and her honest and candid nature is certainly a balm for his broken heart. The ending was perhaps a tad saccharine for me but the grand gesture is sure to melt many a reader's heart. As I said, I did enjoy the romance when I managed to ignore the peripheral details, readers of Dare's novels who are looking for an enjoyable tale with a historical setting will not be disappointed. Throughout Dare maintains her usual witty and sharp style throughout with her reputation for the raunchier scenes being, once again, well deserved.
I know I am definitely swimming against the tide here with my opinion of Any Duchess Will Do, and I'm still not sure what my opinion actually is! I get the feeling that Spindle Cove is Dare's more playful series and while it is obvious that she had great fun writing the novels and readers are having an equally good time reading them, I just don't think they're for me. For me Dare's upstairs/downstairs servant romance of ADWD fairs unfavourably against the likes of the more probable An Offer from a Gentleman by Julia Quinn or even the fairytale offering from Eloisa James A Kiss at Midnight, both of which I infinitely prefer.
I'm eager to hear other people's opinions and to further discuss my mixed feelings for ADWD so let me know what you think of the Spindle Cove series and Any Duchess Will Do in the comments.