REVIEW: The Vagabond Duchess by Claire Thornton
Dear Ms Thornton,
“The Vagabond Duchess” winds up your trilogy about a set of cousins who all find love around the time of the Great Fire of London in 1666. As such, it’s set in one of my favorite time eras, the lusty and bawdy court of King Charles II. Men dressed like fops but carried deadly swords. Women flirted outrageously yet still lived under many societal restrictions. The Guilds of London still ruled their members and the country was still uneasily putting itself back together after the upheavals of the Civil War. I have to ask though, what’s with this cover? The women look like Restoration beauties but are the men supposed to be playing dress up in Tudor clothes?
He’d promised to return.
But Jack Bow is dead. And Temperance Challinor’s quietly respectable life is changed forever.
Practical Temperance has no time to grieve for the irresistible rogue who gave her one night of comfort in a blazing city. She must protect her unborn child–"by pretending to be Jack’s widow.
A foolproof plan. Until she arrives at Jack’s home– and the counterfeit widow of a vagabond becomes the real wife of a very much alive duke!
Temperance, a member of the Guild of Drapers, has little time or patience for the handsome traveling musician who helped her out two drunk lords called her to a tavern to make a sale. But she is happy to see him the next day when he stops by her shop to flirt a little. She’s even happier to see him the day after the fire has begun spreading across the City and it’s every man for himself. John Beaufleur, aka the 2nd Duke of Kilverdale, aka Jack Bow strolling musician, finds himself back in Cheapside looking for Temperance as the fire rages in their direction. With the City going mad around them, he ensures several people make it to safety before he and Temperance find sanctuary in a crowded inn for the night. There they take comfort in each other’s arms.
The next morning, Jack gives her his ring, a purse of money and assures her he’ll return. Fate intervenes sending Jack on a two month detour (see The Abducted Heiress) and in the meanwhile a miscommunication makes Temperance think he’s dead. By that time she knows she’s a gal in trouble. The strict rules of the Draper’s Guild and conventions of the times won’t allow a single woman to be pregnant and Temperance has no choice but to seek the Sussex town Jack mentioned as home. There she hopes to claim widowhood status and find a small cottage in which to raise their child. Imagine her surprise when her inquiries about him lead her to Kilverdale Hall and to the knowledge that she’s a wife and a Duchess.
I enjoyed reading about yet another unconventional heroine. Temperance is a business woman in her own right, owning her own shop and doing well for herself. She’s practical and clearheaded and when faced with upheaval, she makes decisions with her head. She’s not going to turn down Jack’s proposal just because he doesn’t say three little words. She’s also not going to make scenes as she tries to settle into her new life, knowing that she and Jack must persuade everyone that their marriage is of longer standing than it really is.
I like that you show us about Jack instead of merely telling us that he’s a devoted father, a careful landlord, well known at court, wealthy and handsome. But he’s not perfect, as readers of the previous book in this trilogy know, and he’s mature enough to admit to his mistakes and try to make amends. His upbringing, in exile as a peer but with no income and few prospects, has affected him deeply and those marks show in his actions.
The first third of the book zips along showing us the business side of the City of London, the horrible fire and its immediate after effects. The second third targets Jack and Temperance working out their story and coming to an agreement about their marriage but the last third unfortunately drops this grade down. I know these two don’t really know each other well, I know that they are from different social classes but 100 pages of misunderstandings is just too much to take. It’s true that each misunderstanding doesn’t last too long but they just keep coming and coming. In the end it wore me down and caused the last 100 pages to drag endlessly. I think readers also might need to know about how much looser the marriage laws of the time were compare to post 1753 ones.
I think you did an excellent job bringing new readers up to speed with what went on in the previous two books without doing an info dump and characters from those two books are used to advance the plot of this book instead of just showing up to crowd the scenes. I’m glad I read this book and just wish the grade had been a little bit higher. C+