JOINT REVIEW: A Duke in Shining Armor: Difficult Dukes by Loretta Chase
Not all dukes are created equal. Most are upstanding members of Society. And then there’s the trio known as Their Dis-Graces.
Hugh Philemon Ancaster, seventh Duke of Ripley, will never win prizes for virtue. But even he draws the line at running off with his best friend’s bride. All he’s trying to do is recapture the slightly inebriated Lady Olympia Hightower and return her to her intended bridegroom.
For reasons that elude her, bookish, bespectacled Olympia is supposed to marry a gorgeous rake of a duke. The ton is flabbergasted. Her family’s ecstatic. And Olympia? She’s climbing out of a window, bent on a getaway. But tall, dark, and exasperating Ripley is hot on her trail, determined to bring her back to his friend. For once, the world-famous hellion is trying to do the honorable thing.
So why does Olympia have to make it so deliciously difficult for him . . . ?
Jayne: It’s been a while since I read a Loretta Chase book. The recent “seamstress marries a Duke” stuff which followed the “heroine schooled in a harem who’s still somehow a virgin” just hadn’t appealed to me. Still I read the blurb for “A Duke in Shining Armor” merely to know what it would be about and something about the reluctant heroine bolting through a window with a hero trying for once to be honorable snagged me. Thinking back now I’m still amazed since I’m tired of the “runaway bride” plot in contemporary novels.
Kaetrin: It’s been a while for me too but the blurb drew me right in. I was curious how Ms. Chase was going to pull off the “falling in love with his best friend’s fiance” deal.
Jayne: Yeah, that could have been a friendship breaker right there. Olympia is that bookish, bespectacled heroine so popularly paired with a rogue hero. She’s calm, capable and used to using her Dominant Voice to both be heard over her six brothers and to keep them in line. It appears to be this which causes the Uncle of her first betrothed, Ashmont, to manipulate his nephew into pursuing her. For his part Ashmont seems to believe that his reason for wanting to marry her springs from how kind she was to him recently. It seems Dukes are used to fawning, bowing and ingratiating people but not those just being nice to them for no reason.
Olympia’s reasons for saying “yes” are the usual – this is a historical and women needed to be married to avoid the curse of “Spinster Aunt”, her family runs through money and after seven unsuccessful Seasons this might be her last chance. But on the day with nerves doing a number on her and her aunt’s doctored tea loosening inhibitions, she panics. Which is where Ripley steps in, or rather follows her out the library window. He has been tagged by one of his best friends, Ashmont – who has a habit of drinking to excess, to “get me to the Church on time” and see that the wedding goes off.
Ripley, Ashmont and Blackwood – all young Dukes who had various ghastly childhoods and bonded during the first horrid days at Eton and who have caroused together ever since – are the Dis-Graces. Reading the book we slowly get an image of the men. Well maybe Blackwood not so much beyond the fact that he doesn’t seem the sharpest tool in the shed but Ripley seems mainly a perpetrator of practical jokes and hijinks while Ashmont comes across as the worst of the three. Because of that, I can accept his Uncle wanting to find a woman to manage him and “save him.”
The relationship between the men is of long duration and forged in fire. They are ducal equals in a world in which they had few of those and are used to the perks such as merely ordering something to done and it happens. Being solvent and paying their bills helps too. Olympia bridles at this when she sees it in action and tells Ripley that men in general are used to getting their way while women, once married, are at the mercy of their husbands. Later Ripley’s Aunt, Lady Charles – who is a wonderful character, tells Olympia a little about the three mens’ childhood woes which went into making them be the people they are and that life hasn’t been easy sailing for any of them. This wasn’t drawn out too much but just enough to color things in rather than dumping a load of angst on us.
Kaetrin: I enjoyed Lady Charles quite a bit – she seemed not unlike Olympia actually, but older and more self-assured.
Jayne: Good point and I hope we see a bit more of her. Ripley might have “a reputation” and have avoided nice young ladies of Quality but he’s not a bounder. When he sees Olympia’s been drinking and is now crying, he’s not going to let her wander the streets alone on her wedding day. Just isn’t done. Later we see little hints about what else might motivate him when he’s the one who suggests he’s Olympia’s “knight in shining armor” and cheerfully reveals that he reads romances – something that astonishes book loving Olympia. His feelings during his wedding say a lot too.
And when at last Ripley put the ring on her finger, something shifted in his mind. It shifted the world, as well.
He was a hard, reckless man whom harsh experience had taught to scorn sentiment. All the same, his heart swelled. With feelings. Too many, and too unexpected to name. Whatever they were, they were too strong to withstand. Moisture gathered in his eyes. He met her gaze—so blue now behind her spectacles—and saw tears there as well, quickly blinked away before she smiled up at him and filled the church with sunshine.
He loved her. It was as simple as that. It was as immense as that.
Kaetrin: I agree. I got the impression that Ripley wanted to be a better man and in Olympia, he found he had… not an excuse for it exactly, but a motivation to extend himself perhaps.
Jayne: We don’t ever actually see Ripley being bad – his actions as told in the book are more boyish pranks. But I agree that Olympia seems to make him want to put all this behind him and act his age. Still, at first, Ripley is motivated to protect his friend’s affianced bride and annoyed at Ashmont for not wooing her properly so she wouldn’t feel the desire to bolt. So begins the road romance/comedy of errors with most of our characters just missing each other as they traipse back and forth.The time frame for the novel is fairly short – two weeks? – and the amount of travel by horseback, hackney, landau and wherry is astounding. Frankly I’m amazed they’re not all too exhausted to talk. Or that no one has come down with a fever after getting drenched both by rain and in rivers.
Kaetrin: I kept imagining the movie of Olympia’s “escape” from the wedding. It felt very cinematic to me – and definitely farcical. I also heard Kate Reading in my head (she narrates many of Ms. Chase’s audiobooks) and that added to my enjoyment as well. On a more serious note, I enjoyed the device to keep the protagonists in close proximity and I do love a good road trip romance.
Jayne: Yes, very cinematic Rom-com. Olympia might have started with cold feet towards Ashmont while Ripley was doing the honorable thing but their feelings slowly change. As the alcohol wears off, Olympia feels giddier in Ripley’s presence while he has to keep reminding himself that he’s doing this for his friend and that friends don’t poach friend’s brides. Ultimate insult, you know. Matter of honor. Ripley mentally catalogs the ways Olympia will need to and is capable of managing Ashmont as it slowly dawns on him that he wishes he had finally noticed her first after years of knowing she was on the London scene. Meanwhile Olympia is managing him even as she scares other grown men into doing her bidding. Remember she has The Voice honed by years of dealing with brothers.
“I never tried to pass myself off as a scholar,” he said.“Because I won’t meekly do what you think I ought, I’m brainless.”
He wanted to meekly do whatever she wanted him to do.
He needed to be shot. Preferably in the head, where it would do some good.
“Obstinate, too,” she said. “Go ahead. Lean on the horse. Or the tree. It’s killing you to stand upright—but you’ll do it, by Jupiter, won’t you, for no better reason than to prove whatever it is you have to prove.”
He wanted to lean on her.
“I have nothing to prove,” he said. “I had a plan, as I mentioned last night. I saw no reason to change it. I’m going to London.”
“Saw no reason,” she repeated, shaking her head. “How I wish I’d dosed you with laudanum.” She looked at Cato. “It’s exactly the same as talking to boys, which is like talking to a brick.”
Kaetrin: Did Olympia remind you a bit of Jessica Trent from Lord of Scoundrels Jayne? (She did me). I think those who enjoyed Lord of Scoundrels will find a lot to like here, although Olympia isn’t as self-confident as Jessica, she is direct and forthright, and very very smart. And of course, the tragic backstory for the hero is also common in the books.
Jayne: It’s been so many years since I read “Lord of Scoundrels” that I honestly can’t remember. It’s one of those books I’m almost afraid to read again for fear it won’t hold up.
I did have a problem with the fact that even as Ripley is falling like a rock for Olympia and swearing to her that Ashmont is crazy to marry her too, Olympia in wondering why two eligible men – because let’s be honest and admit that no matter what they did or their thinking capacity or lack thereof, they are Dukes – were suddenly smitten with her after *seven* disastrous Seasons. If she has such a shapely form, glasses be damned, why did she only have one grandfatherly suitor who probably wanted her father’s library as much as he did Olympia? After giving her such a mousy reputation and implying no man ever noticed her, I was never convinced that merely being kind to Ashmont and him being manipulated by his Uncle would be enough for a proposal.
Kaetrin: Yes, I agree. If Olympia was quite as pretty as their Dis-Graces seem to think she is why had she been a member of the “Wallflower, Chaperon & Elderly Department”? I reconciled Ripley’s feelings by the rose-coloured glasses of love – while I’m sure Olympia is pretty she obviously wasn’t attractive enough to catch the eye of any eligible men prior to Ashmont.
Jayne: On the other hand, Ripley and Olympia spend enough time together – a shocking amount they both agree – that each gets to see enough of the other that I can believe them falling in love.
Kaetrin: Oh, yes. I believed that too. Although I did wonder sometimes if Olympia would be a constant mother/nursemaid type figure and whether that would become exhausting over time. Nevertheless they made each other laugh and Olympia is direct enough that I was confident she would speak up and advocate for herself should the need arise so I thought they’d manage.
Jayne: Hmmm, you might be right about that. On the other hand, if Ripley is finally ready to be an adult she might not have to nursemaid him quite as much. Their dialog is fun to read, though. Zinging back and forth and Olympia not afraid to speak her mind and give Ripley a set down when he needs it.
“Picture the scene. You appear at the door, trailed by me and the dog, who, by the way, is clearly not a Sam. Do give a moment to relieving the animal of that ridiculous name. Offer him something with dignity. Like . . . Cato. Cato will do.”
“Thank you for letting me choose the dog’s name.”
“You were too slow,” he said. “Now listen to me.”
“Have I a choice?”
Kaetrin: I had that part highlighted too.
Jayne: It’s also Olympia who has the guts and nerve to make the fatal move to go after what she wants from Ripley. He, of course, is too far gone to resist no matter how hard he tries and before long is meeting with her father and Uncle to hurry a wedding along.
Now that Olympia and Ripley have got themselves sorted, what next? At first I thought I had missed a book featuring Blackwood and his wife – who happens to be Ripley’s sister – but instead I think we’ve got a marriage-in-crisis story ahead. For Ashmont, I truly don’t know who he will be paired with but he seems – to me – to need a helping hand the most given his daily trips to the bottle + his temper.
Kaetrin: I’m looking forward to Blackwood’s story as I’m a big fan of marriage-in-trouble – provided there’s no cheating involved. If there is, it will be a hard sell for me.
There was something in A Duke in Shining Armor which gave me some discomfort. I’m not sure if I’m just a bit over-sensitive in a post-Weinstein world but sections like this gave me pause:
Yes, he would very much like to see her in her nightdress. And out of her nightdress.
And what a bloody waste of fantasy!
No wonder he and his friends kept away from virgins and respectable matrons. Can’t do this. Can’t do that.
There was an underlying acceptance of “it’s perfectly okay to treat a woman badly provided she’s not in a protected class of person” which was not attractive to me. I realise that Ripley is a man of his time but we do view historical romance through a modern lens. His constant excuses that he was “a man” and therefore obliged to think with his penis didn’t wash that well. The “boys will be boys” mantra doesn’t pass muster anymore (if it ever really did). While I understood the intended humour of it, it was still uncomfortably close to some of the excuses of the modern-day douchebag for me to really enjoy it. That said, it’s not like this kind of portrayal is ubiquitous throughout not just historical romance but contemporary romance too. I don’t know. Perhaps I’m just grumpy about all the dickheads and not inclined to cut any dude some slack these days. Jayne?
Jayne: I am eyeing historical books through a new lens too but here I wasn’t bothered. I never saw or got the impression that Ripley treated any woman badly – it’s just that he wouldn’t go up to a Society virgin and invite her to have sex with him or be his mistress. And remember how he treated the seamstress and her assistants at the inn?
Kaetrin: True. Some of the things he thought were objectionable but I didn’t see anything in what he actually did that was all that terrible. (Although – and this is not about how he treats women – I was taken aback by the dinner for stammerers and stutterers. According to Ripley all the guests laughed and enjoyed themselves and thought it a huge joke but it was… not ideal in my view. On the other hand, I thought the dinner party where all the mirrors were replaced with distorting mirrors was pretty funny actually.)
I did enjoy the book in spite of some misgivings. It’s well written and the banter between Ripley and Olympia sparks off the page. I’m giving A Duke in Shining Armor a B.
Jayne: I thought the mirror dinner was funny too but agree with you about the one for people with speech impediments. The fact that I liked this in spite of a plot I thought I was tired of, along with the sparkling dialog and realization by the hero that he adores his heroine for her managing ways and brains wins me over here. B+