Review: A Duke, the Lady and a Baby – Vanessa Riley
by Vanessa Riley
Series: Rogues and Remarkable Women #1
Also in this series: An Earl, the Girl, and a Toddler
Publication Date: June 30, 2020
I received an advance review copy of this book from NetGalley. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.My rating:
Created by a shrewd countess, The Widow’s Grace is a secret society with a mission: to help ill-treated widows regain their status, their families, and even find true love again—or perhaps for the very first time...
When headstrong West Indian heiress Patience Jordan questioned her English husband's mysterious suicide, she lost everything: her newborn son, Lionel, her fortune—and her freedom. Falsely imprisoned, she risks her life to be near her child—until The Widow's Grace gets her hired as her own son’s nanny. But working for his unsuspecting new guardian, Busick Strathmore, Duke of Repington, has perils of its own. Especially when Patience discovers his military strictness belies an ex-rake of unswerving honor—and unexpected passion...
A wounded military hero, Busick is determined to resolve his dead cousin’s dangerous financial dealings for Lionel’s sake. But his investigation is a minor skirmish compared to dealing with the forthright, courageous, and alluring Patience. Somehow, she's breaking his rules, and sweeping past his defenses. Soon, between formidable enemies and obstacles, they form a fragile trust—but will it be enough to save the future they long to dare together?
Content warnings: View Spoiler »suicide (off-page, before the book began), murder (on-page), period appropriate racism, heroine was forcibly committed to an asylum (before book starts), characters are drugged in order to simulate madness/allow others to rape them, main character struggles with war injury and ableism, gambling, drinking/drugs for management of chronic pain « Hide Spoiler
I’ve been a fan of Vanessa Riley’s books for ages, and this book is no exception. She writes sweet closed door romances and while I wouldn’t categorize them as inspirationals, they do have a decidedly Christian bent. I like it, and I don’t think it would be enough to dissuade a reader of a different religious persuasion from reading it, but I just wanted to put that out there.
“I’d serve this Duke of Repington to serve Lionel, but only to get my son strong enough to sail. Once I retrieved my trust documents, we’d escape England. It was time to live by my heart’s rules. That had to be the smartest thing a widow could do.”
It’s no surprise to those who know her that Patience, well, lacks patience. For good reason, too – she’s stranded in England after her husband committed suicide, and she’s been separated from her infant son by one of her husband’s cronies. Sneaking in as a footman in order to secretly feed the baby, she’s caught off-guard when Busick, the Duke of Repington, shows up and occupies her old residence with his army of wounded vets, assuming guardianship of the boy. Unsure of his motives, with the help of another widow, she contrives to be hired on as the nanny for her own child. She’s mostly biding her time until she and Lionel can flee back to her wealthy family in the West Indies, but in the meantime, what’s the harm in convincing the wounded military vet that a baby isn’t another one of his soldiers, and neither is she?
The last thing on Patience’s mind is finding another beau – in fact, for most of the book she’s focused on retrieving from the Duke’s study the papers she needs to sail back home to her wealthy family in the West Indies. She’s honest and outspoken, often to her detriment, especially when the Duke isn’t sure she’s the best person to nanny little Lionel. Patience is grieving for her husband, which is compounded by the fact that she’s convinced that it was her inability to make him happy – as his foreign and too-dark wife – that led to his death. Busick, for his part, hides his own pain by playing the consummate military man, obsessed with order, schedules, and rules. He refuses to let even his closest friends know about the severity of his wounds – while everyone knows his leg was injured in the war, View Spoiler » he’s actually an amputee « Hide Spoiler.
“Maybe it was the challenge in his voice. Maybe it was days of being forced to agree to his rules for my son. Or maybe I wanted him to notice I wasn’t a rag doll. I shouldn’t be ordered about. I wasn’t going to be put on a shelf like Colin had done. He assumed I was too delicate to be seen in Town, anywhere away from Hamlin. Lies.”
The romance between Patience and Busick is delightfully slow burn. There’s quite a bit of pining and some absolutely stellar banter, but the actual consummation only happens after they end up in a marriage of convenience. Of course, it only stays merely convenient for a short period of time, and since this is one of my favorite historical tropes, I wish this had been played up a bit more in the story. The plot overall is a bit rambling – the main non-romance is a sort-of mystery where Patience and her friend Jemina (an amnesiac widow) are trying to figure out what, exactly, the evil crony wants with baby Lionel – and there’s bits View Spoiler »like the mystery of who was stealing laundry and food « Hide Spoiler that are either never explained or were resolved too quickly for me to understand at the end of the book.
“Stay alert, but don’t let uncertainty of anything cheat you of joy. Widows have to be smarter, but we have to have peace, too.”
Peace, bravery, intellect—I was weighted down by all these things I was supposed to have.
Vanessa Riley has a distinctive writing style that always takes me a bit to get used to, but it’s perfect for this angsty and almost gothic story. As usual, she doesn’t shy away from the deep inequities faced by women, especially women of color, in regency England. I also found the portrayal of Busick and the other veterans’ injuries thoughtfully done for the most part, though I’d personally like to get an ownvoices read on that. My main criticism is the shifting POVs. Patience’s POV is in first person while Busick’s is in third person. I’ve previously read books like this and I find it absolutely confusing – especially when the POVs would shift mid-chapter. It’s a baffling choice to me and it definitely contributed to some of my confusion around the plot, especially from Busick’s POV.
Overall, despite my issues with the POV, I liked the book, and I’d recommend it to anyone looking for a sweet, gothic-y romance completely with crashing chandeliers and secret passageways.