The Premise: It’s been two years since the Duke of Berrow committed suicide after losing a chess match to Villiers, but his widow Harriet is still grieving. After attending a scandalous costume party dressed as Mother Goose (wearing an unflattering nightgown and carrying a taxadermied bird) she realizes that it’s time to turn over a new leaf. When her friend Isadore decides to create a scandal and attend Lord Strange’s infamous house party, Harriet agrees to be her chaperone–disguised as a man. Lord Strange, however, sees through her charade and begins to fall in love with “Harry” (not realizing that the woman he loves is a duchess.) But Harriet doesn’t approve of Strange’s extravagant lifestyle and Strange loathes the aristocracy. Will their burgeoning affair come to a screeching halt when the truth is revealed? (Cover image from www.avonromance.com.)
Bonus Factors: cross-dressing, fencing, charming children, political machinations, billets-doux, fake impotence, ladies of the night, house parties
My Reaction: My cringe factor on cross-dressing stories is high. I tend to vicariously experience embarrassment for the characters in question, so I find them distressing rather than hilarious. (There are exceptions. She’s the Man is a definite NO, but I adore the Song of the Lioness quartet by Tamora Pierce.) Luckily, Duchess by Night didn’t go in for the really obvious, squirm-inducing scenarios. While I enjoyed the secret love letters and the midnight assignations and the fencing lessons, I was less a fan of the charming children subplot. It worked well in the story but is just not my thing in general. (My biological clock seems to be defective. I am beyond fine with this.) The beginning and ending overlap with An Affair Before Christmas and When the Duke Returns…and those were probably my favorite parts. I didn’t dislike it by any stretch of the imagination, but it’s not my favorite installment in the series.
Rating: 2.5/4 (1 being a step above a sex-free gentle romance, 4 being an all-sex-and-no-plot romance)