Julia Quinn (Piatkus, 2006)
I went into The Duke and I with curiosity, but no great expectations – and Great Expectations it is not. But the Netflix adaptation is generating a lot of interest and I was intrigued! I haven’t had much luck with this method of choosing books in the past (The Witcher being a prime example, where the writing was so deeply awful I felt compelled to DNF for the sake of my remaining brain cells). However, despite some fairly glaring issues, I thoroughly enjoyed The Duke and I. If the book is anything to go by, the hype may just be warranted!
Let’s start by addressing the elephant in the room though: historical accuracy. The Duke and I is set in Victorian England and has caught a lot of flack for playing fast and loose with period details. It’s undeniably inaccurate. But then, it makes no real pretensions to accuracy. The dress and setting details are vaguely correct, but the dialogue and social conventions are not. Not at all. It’s an Americanised, sugary Hollywood version of Victorian England. And, normally, I’d be the first person to find that irritating. I’d be the first person pointing out all the errors. But I can’t here because I find I simply don’t care. That’s how good the story is.
The characters are likeable, intriguing, and multidimensional in a way I rarely find with romance. There is also a relatively detailed and rich backstory, for a romance. It was somewhat jarring in today’s day and age to find a female protagonist openly declaring that her ambitions run to marriage and children; and yet, while not politically correct by today’s standards, that is fitting within the period. Despite that, the female characters are outspoken, intelligent, well educated, and witty. They are not conventional. The Duke is brooding, sexy, intelligent, and flawed; somewhat reminiscent of Mr Darcy.
The romance is sweet, surprising in some ways, and yet follows familiar patterns to provide a satisfying degree of escapism. The ending left me with a smile on my face.
I loved the period dress, the ballroom and drawing room scenes. It gave the romance an air of “other”, a glamour. While no one could claim this is a work with much basis in historical fact, the setting definitely gave the book a little something extra. A little additional degree of escapism. It was a little spicy, without making me cringe too much.
All in all, I thoroughly enjoyed The Duke and I. Perhaps I shouldn’t have. Perhaps I should care that it wasn’t historically accurate or literary. But I don’t. Would it have been improved by greater accuracy? Possibly, but I actually rather appreciated its frivolity. It made me smile. It was sweet, fun, and romantic. It provided a moment of much needed escapism. In fact, I highly recommend it!