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REVIEW: The Secret Duke by Jo Beverley

The Secret DukeDear Ms. Beverley,

All right. Here we go with “The Secret Duke” the third book in this series set in mid eighteenth century England. As with the first two books, it involves hidden and/or secret identities and takes place partly on the road which allows the characters to let their hair down – so to speak – and get to know each other outside of rigid constraints of 18th century and aristocratic society. Parts of the book worked very well for me while others…hmm, maybe not so much.

The Duke of Ithorne is a man of power and consequence. Born after his father’s death, being a Duke is what he was raised to be. But occasionally, he assumes an alter ego as Captain Rose, sailing out of Dover. And it’s after one of these voyages that he first meets a young woman who will rock his world. Who is she? Well, he doesn’t know – then – as she slips away after he’s saved her virtue and possibly her life. But four years later, the two meet again, and again, cloaked in disguises and attempting to keep their identities hidden as they tack through the swirling events of London court and country life.

Those who haven’t already finished the first two books might be slightly at sea when characters from them pop up in this one. I still think that people could start here but only if they don’t mind spoilers, especially from “The Secret Marriage,” since many of the events at the end of that book overlap with the early action of this one. I found a lot of that to be slightly awkward, since I already knew about it, and very dragging as there’s a whole lot to be recapped. And while the cat-rabbit of Hesse was interesting enough for one book, I didn’t care to see her again, and for so many scenes, in this one. I think she’s got more dialogue in the book than Rothgar does.

Of more interest to me is the portrayal of the position of women at this time. The heroine, Bella Barstowe, finds out exactly how easy it was for a woman to lose her reputation and how that would blight her life. She makes a small mistake which gets compounded by the actions of the men “in charge” of her then has to face a future that pretty much sucks. If not for the legacy left to her by another woman, she would never have escaped being house bound. Then you show us, through the coterie around Lady Fowler, the other ways women could slip through the cracks and be left destitute. With no money or family, being a woman alone then would have been truly terrifying. Even a young woman such as Bella has to learn how to deal with the world of commerce outside of her home.

Yet, as precarious as you show a woman’s position to be, I’m glad that not all men are portrayed as ogres and tyrants. Women from all ranks of society could find love or at least good men to be in their lives. Otherwise, Bella’s sudden change of heart about marriage would have seemed to quick. Thank you that the Christmas at Rothgar Abbey serves a purpose other than as a sickly sweet Hallmark Card moment in showing Bella that she could live this kind of life with Thorne.

Again, and I know I’ve mentioned this before, I love that we see the power that these aristocratic people, men and women, had in society. Ithorne is well aware of his responsibilities – both day to day and over the holiday – to his people and his duties. He also knows he needs to put in an appearance when George III becomes King. Perhaps not quite the “hell for leather” charge of the court towards a new monarch as in Tudor days but still one Must Be Seen. I wasn’t aware that King had shown signs of his illness so early in his reign. And behind all the great men were the secretaries and valets. I loved the little bit about Ithorne asking his valet about the correct dress for a nobleman to wear when intervening in the affairs of distressed gentlewomen.

This is not a democratic society, heavens no, and I think you make the distinction very nicely. I would never have thought of the fact that a working class person with a silver cross and chain might be thought to have stolen it. Bella worries that the family servants who help her might be made to suffer for it. Rothgar and Ithorne show noblesse oblige toward those they feel responsible for. Ithorne worries about how Bella would fit into upper echelons of society since even being a lower level aristocrat might not be enough to make her transition to Duchess a smooth one.

In Bella’s initial appearance in the story, she’s still young and impetuous. As the book progresses, and she’s had four years to think on things, she’s grown and shows restraint in her actions. She still has her “March hare” moments but they’re tempered with experience and she thinks things through. When she has the chance to take revenge on those who did her wrong, she’s got intelligence enough to know when she needs some assistance. Ithorne, though he doesn’t change as much as Bella over the course of the story, will hopefully have learned something about the place of women in this world.

But the revenge section, as much as I was glad to see Bella get a bit of her own back, dragged for me. As I mentioned, too much cat – and this is from a person who loves cats – and too much time spent with Ithorne as a common man. Perhaps this is due to the fact that you used this plot device in all three books and maybe it’s partly because you show the aristocratic power behind the pomp so well that I want to see more of that. In any event, I wasn’t sorry to see this section end.

I am sorry that this mini-series is now over as I adore Georgian era books and am always delighted to peek into the world of the Mallorens. Poor Bryght and Portia will have to sweat out another pregnancy before their offspring are “off the hook.” And poor Rothgar, along with Robin, will have to pace through another delivery. Will we see more Mallorens? I do hope so.

~Jayne

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Another long time reader who read romance novels in her teens, then took a long break before started back again about 15 years ago. She enjoys historical romance/fiction best, likes contemporaries, action- adventure and mysteries, will read suspense if there's no TSTL characters and is currently reading very few paranormals.

8 Comments

  1. Kaetrin
    Apr 06, 2010 @ 20:52:35

    This one is on its way to me from the Book Depository. I’m looking forward to more of the Georgian setting and the Malloren world – esp. Rothgar. It doesn’t sound like its her best book, but I’m still looking forward to it. I, too, hope we see more of the Mallorens in future books.

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  2. Jayne
    Apr 07, 2010 @ 05:38:53

    Sadly as you can see from the grade, I think it one of the weaker Malloren books but, hey, a Malloren book is a Malloren book and I’m always happy for those.

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  3. Sunita
    Apr 07, 2010 @ 06:47:08

    Great review Jayne. Interestingly, I haven’t read the first two in the series and I wound up liking it more than you. Perhaps it’s because I didn’t notice when the plot devices of the first two books were recurring. Like you, I *really* like that Beverley shows us what it was like to be an aristocrat in the time in terms of politics. Enough with these novels in which rich powerful aristocrats have no extended families and hardly any social or political responsibilities! I also thought she did a good job balancing the portrayal of the Ithorne as Duke v. Ithorne as man.

    I found Ithorne so attractive that I wasn’t entirely convinced Bella was good enough for him, but she definitely grew over the series, and I liked the changes in their interactions and the development of their relationship.

    Now you’ve made me want to go and buy the other two! As you say, even a less great JoBev Georgian is well worth the time.

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  4. Jayne
    Apr 07, 2010 @ 11:51:20

    @Sunita: “Like you, I *really* like that Beverley shows us what it was like to be an aristocrat in the time in terms of politics.”

    Absolutely. This is one of the recurrent strong points of her books. These people were incredibly powerful and lived in a world of social distinctions. If you read them, I hope you enjoy the first two books in the series.

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  5. Zeba
    Sep 10, 2011 @ 04:18:10

    One question, I’ve been dying to know this. Does Dorcas Frogatt (Caro) get pregnant? Yes, I know this book isn’t based around her but in the ‘Secret Wedding’, it is revealed that Petra from ‘A Lady’s Secret’ is with child. So I was wondering if it is somewhere mentioned that Caro and Christian are expecting a child or maybe even have one, seeing as the book skips time by four years.

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  6. Jayne
    Sep 10, 2011 @ 07:08:32

    @Zeba: I’m sorry but I honestly don’t remember any mention of that in this book. And the 4 year skip ahead is actually between the prologue of this book (which takes place before the main action of “Secret Wedding”) and its main action. The overlapping sections I mentioned are actually what takes place at the end of “Secret Wedding.” Is that clear? Probably not.

    Let me try and timeline it better.

    Secret Wedding: We have the first meeting of Caro and Christian when they secretly get married.

    Duke: Skip ahead a number of years to the first meeting of Bella and Ithorne which is the prologue of “Duke.”

    Wedding: Skip to main action when Caro and Christian meet up again especially towards the end of that book during the masquerade ball in London.

    Duke: It’s 4 years after the prologue when Bella and Ithorne meet up again, in London, at – you guessed it – that same masquerade ball – when the action of Duke really gets going.

    So even by the end of Duke, Caro really hasn’t had time to get preggers yet.

    Now, again I’m not sure, but there might be some mention of her pregnancy in the next book “An Unlikely Countess” but – sorry I keep repeating this – I can’t remember for sure.

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  7. Zeba
    Sep 11, 2011 @ 02:16:51

    @Jayne: Dear Jayne,
    Thanks so much for clearing that up for me. I’m dying to read the other secret trio books but they’re not in the library :( however, I have read the Unlikely Countess and I’m sure Caro isn’t mention, neither are any of the other secret heroines. I’m still trying to remember if it’s in the same time period. All I remember is the book is set in the 1700s but Diana Rothgar has a child. Also, is Christian a big part in the book or is he briefly mentioned?
    Thank you,
    :)

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  8. Jayne
    Sep 11, 2011 @ 05:25:43

    @Zeba: It’s basically the same time period which can be told by the fact that Diana and Rothgar’s daughter is still an infant.

    Have you tried an interlibrary loan for the other two books? It might not be possible since they were published as paperbacks and are a few years old now but it wouldn’t hurt to ask your librarian.

    ReplyReply

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