Saturday, March 2, 2013

Review: How to Deceive a Duke by Lecia Cornwall

If your family was having to sell off all of your possessions and facing penury when your beautiful but temperamental older sister was given the chance to marry the infamous Devil Duke and reverse the family fortune, what would you do when she selfishly ran off right before the wedding? For Meg Lynton, the avowed ugly duckling amongst three swans and the practical, determined sister who knows her duty even if sister Rose doesn't, the answer of course is to hide behind a thick wedding veil and step forward to marry Nicholas Hartley, the Duke of Temberlay herself. For his part, Nick hadn't wanted to marry; he hadn't even wanted to inherit the dukedom. But when his brother is killed, he does inherit the duchy and grudgingly agrees that his battleax grandmother, with whom he has a very antagonistic and contentious relationship, can choose a suitable bride for him as long as she leaves him alone and continues to give him the money he needs to repair his estates. Thus he has no idea that a bride-switch has even occurred, nor does he care except for the disturbing and highly disconcerting fact that his interestingly delectable bride has lied to him and gotten away with it.

Both Nick and Meg have to overcome their reputations and expectations of them based solely on unreliable information. In Nick's case, his rakish reputation and his devil may care attitude is almost completely a construct of the scandal sheets but both his grandmother, who idolized his older brother, and Meg believe his press rather than delving deeper to see the real man. In Meg's case, she has long believed that her father's view of her as the plain sister whose only worth was in what she could bring to a potential husband, is a true one despite her keen intelligence and her very capable juggling of household finances to stave off complete impoverishment after her father's death. She has internalized a "less than" view of herself not helped by a lack of acknowledgment of her skills by her grieving mother. So when these two misunderstood and misrepresented people walk into an arranged marriage, there are bound to be troubles as they work slowly towards learning the true person they've married, not the artificial construct all of society sees.

Meg and Nick, while immediately attracted to each other, are not willing to lower their defenses towards each other and neither wants to give any quarter to the other. Nick is furious he's been duped despite the fact that he never even laid eyes on his intended bride before the wedding and he fully intends to continue living his life the way he was before his marriage, reinforcing for Meg her general unattractiveness and undesirability. They draws sparks off of each other not only sexually but they are continually sparring with each other verbally. They are both characters who need love in their lives, having received too little of it and too reservedly until now but they also find it hard to be emotionally open and honest with each other. And their fledgling trust is threatened by outside forces as well, such as the truth about both Nick's brother's and Meg's father's deaths.

Regency-set historical romance fans will enjoy the by-play between Meg and Nick quite a lot. Her insecurities can get wearisome but her spunk in other areas of life tends to make up for her low self-esteem. Nick as a character is multi-layered and appealing, especially as he comes to realize that others' perceptions of a person do matter, and matter intensely. The ending of the tale is frustratingly out of left field plot-wise and doesn't really serve any good purpose. But overall, this is a a fun and entertaining few hours of reading.

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