Title: The Lost Duke of Wyndham
Author: Julia Quinn
Review number: 58
Genre: Historical romance
Stand Alone/series: Book 1 of a two books series called The Two Dukes of Wyndham
Summary: Jack Audley has been a highwayman. A soldier. And he has always been a rogue. What he is not, and never wanted to be, is a peer of the realm, responsible for an ancient heritage and the livelihood of hundreds. But when he is recognized as the long-lost son of the House of Wyndham, his carefree life is over. And if his birth proves to be legitimate, then he will find himself with the one title he never wanted: Duke of Wyndham.
Grace Eversleigh has spent the last five years toiling as the companion to the dowager Duchess of Wyndham. It is a thankless job, with very little break from the routine… until Jack Audley lands in her life, all rakish smiles and debonair charm. He is not a man who takes no for an answer, and when she is in his arms, she’s not a woman who wants to say no. But if he is the true duke, then he is the one man she can never have…
It is no secret that I adore Julia Quinn’s books and I may be biased for that, but the Lost Duke of Wyndham is not only a delightful read but also her best book to date, in my opinion, and one that will most definitely make my top 10 of 2008.
Grace Eversleigh is a very down to earth young woman who is a companion to the dowager duchess of Wyndham . Over the 5 years she has been in the employ of the woman she has learned and accepted her place in life. It is not an enviable position since the dowager is very difficult person (“Under her grace’s stern, exacting, and haughty exterior did NOT beat a heart of gold”) but it is the one available to her as a single orphaned woman with no means to support herself. They are coming back from a dance one night and their coach is stopped by a band of highway men. Jack Audley is their leader : a rogue and a charmer, ex-army soldier turned thief ( I will not dwell on the fact that being a thief is a bad bad thing which should not be so easy to get away with) who is now about to face his destiny. The minute the dowager gets off the coach his life will change forever – she immediately recognizes him as the son of her favorite son and offers him a chance to learn about his background. He barely has time to steal a kiss from Grace ( her first and the one that will also change her forever) before he is hit with a truth he can not stand and sets off with only a ring – a ring that is very much like the one he owns, the only piece of heirloom left from his long-dead father.
The next morning, Jack decides to explore and goes to the family house -actually a castle – and is taken aback by the grandeur of it. Having his curiosity somewhat soothed he is about to leave and go back to his life when he sees Grace and those precious moments are his last moments of freedom. He leaves but the duchess manages to extricate from Grace the fact that he was there and she decides to kidnap him and bring him home so that she can give him back the life he should have had. Because if they can prove that Jack is legitimate, if they can prove that his parents were married, than Jack is the true Duke of Wyndham.
Grace, clever and attuned woman that she is, is the first one to think of the repercussions: for everyone. For herself, for she is attracted to a man who is either a thief (and therefore should be arrested) or a Duke (therefore way out of her reach) . For Jack, whose life is to be changed so much. For the Dowager , who has found a connection to her favourite , long-lost son. Most of all she is the only one to foresee the complications and to feel for the current Duke , Thomas, who is her good friend , the other dowager’s grandson, Jack’s cousin and a man who has grown up to be the Duke. In fact, this is one of the most interesting things in the book because for Thomas, the Duke is the Title, the title defines who he is – and if he is stripped of it, what is to become of him?
Things get even more complicated by the fact that Thomas has been betrothed to Amelia, their neighbor, since they were children, but the marriage contract is between Amelia and The Duke, regardless of who he is. If Jack is the Duke then, will he have to marry Amelia? But how, if he is already in love with Grace?
Jack is one of the most charming heroes I have ever read, a rascal with a brilliant sense of humor who is hardly ever serious. But whose façade hides feelings of inadequacy, grief and sadness. I was completely infatuated with him from the start: Jack laughs, I laugh, Jack charms, I am charmed. Jack cries, correction, Jack SOBS, OMG bring me a box of Kleenex already. My heart gives a somersault every time he thinks about Grace – he is far from being an Alpha male and it is refreshing for a change, to read a non alpha male after reading so many paranormals lately. He falls in love with Grace so hard and so fast and he is the romantic one whilst Grace, who has learned and accepted her place in life is the one to be calm and centered throughout the book – she is the one that knows what will be required of him if he is to be Duke and the one that has to make a decision of whether to search for her own happiness for once in her life.
The Lost Duke of Whydham is an extremely well done mixture of simplicity and complexity: The simplicity lies in the romance itself which is as straight forward as it can be. They fall in love pretty much at first sight and do not deny their feelings even if it happens fast and suddenly. In fact, they bask in the glory of what they feel and it is heartwarming to see how they search for each other’s company , how they share a sense of humour and how they feel the complicity of each other’s mind. They have things in common , they love life, they love art, they pine for their happy childhood , which they both want to emulate when creating their own family – that is also a refreshing change from the Sad Childhood curse. They have memories of laughter and that’s what they want. There is no silly conflict to keep them apart – if they are to be apart is because of forces that work against them – or because Grace can not forget who she is.
The complexity and the tension in the novel therefore come from the conflict surrounding the Title. Jack never wanted to be a peer, he has a carefree attitude to life that he can hardly reconcile with having that many responsibilities – and even if he wanted to, he never had the necessary training or the necessary education to do so. Furthermore, Jack has a Secret and Teh Secret may make things even more uncomfortable. Thomas, oh the other hand, has had years of training, and years of behaving and carrying the Title on his shoulders – if he isn’t the Duke, then who is he?
He is not the most likable character in the world – the fact that he seems to not care for his fiancée Amelia and is a cold and proper peer of the reign makes it even so. But one has to give kudos to Julia Quinn who knows how to write secondary characters. At the end, you are feeling for Thomas and for what everything will mean to him if he is to lose the Title and you feel for Amelia who is but a pawn in her father’s game for power. Always waiting for Thomas to make a decision and set up a date for the wedding. They end up growing on you and if you don’t want to read their story (coming up, next) then you are probably made of more stern stuff than I am.
So is Jack the true Duke? Not telling. But I must admit I was very surprised at how things turned out to be.
The Lost Duke of Wyndham has all of the Julia Quinn’s usual signature: the lightness ,the clever dialogue , the witty banter but do not be fooled. As light and humorous as this is, the prose is as refined as it can it be with a deep level of emotional sophistication. I had a smile of my face for the entire time I was reading it (well, expect for when I cried a bit with Jack at his reunion with his aunt) .
Anyway, since I am running out of adjectives I will just say one more thing: go read this book.
Notable quotes / Parts: Should I quote funny or should I quote awwwww? I will quote a scene that is both:
He was always hoping for a glimpse of Grace, no matter where he was. Just the sight of her made something tickle and fizz within his chest. Half the time she did not even see him, which he did not mind. He rather enjoyed watching her go about her duties. But if he stared long enough and he always did; there was never any good reason to place his eyes anywhere else – she always sensed him.
Eventually, even if he was at an odd angle, or obscured in shadows, she felt his presence, and she’d turn. He always tried to play the seducer then, to gaze at her with smoldering intensity, to see if she’d melt in a pool of whimpering desire.
But he never did. Because all he could do, whenever she looked back at him, was smile like a lovesick fool. He would have been disgusted with himself, expect that she always smiled in return, which never failed to turn the tickle and fizz into something even more bubbly and carefree.
Awwwww. Seriously now.
Verdict: Funny and heartwarming. Very romantic. I had high expectations for this book and Julia Quinn surpassed every one of them. I loved it.
Rating: I laughed , I cried, I sighed, I loved the writing, I loved Jack. I will keep this and re-read it often, I am sure. What grade could this be? 9, damn near perfection!
Reading next: My Lord and Spymaster by Joanna Bourne