Review: The Duke Who Didn’t – Courtney Milan
by Courtney Milan
Series: Wedgeford Trials #1
Publisher: Femtopress LLC
Publication Date: September 22, 2020
I received an advance review copy of this book from Publisher. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.My rating:
Miss Chloe Fong has plans for her life, lists for her days, and absolutely no time for nonsense. Three years ago, she told her childhood sweetheart that he could talk to her once he planned to be serious. He disappeared that very night.
Except now he’s back. Jeremy Wentworth, the Duke of Lansing, has returned to the tiny village he once visited with the hope of wooing Chloe. In his defense, it took him years of attempting to be serious to realize that the endeavor was incompatible with his personality.
All he has to do is convince Chloe to make room for a mischievous trickster in her life, then disclose that in all the years they’ve known each other, he’s failed to mention his real name, his title… and the minor fact that he owns her entire village.
Only one thing can go wrong: Everything.
Content warnings: View Spoiler »racism (micro- and macro-aggressions), loss of a parent (before the book starts), grief, social anxiety, toxic family relationship « Hide Spoiler
TLDR: Look, it’s a surprise new Courtney Milan book in 2020. Go buy it, because trust me, you need it.
I have sung the praises of Courtney Milan multiple times before, so it’s probably no surprise that I also absolutely loved this childhood friends to lovers book. It’s seriously a masterclass in fluffy banter, while also striking a careful balance with more serious matters (like revenge via a sauce empire, naturally).
“The problem had never been how serious Jeremy was about her; it had been how serious she thought he was. She had to convince herself first. How better to have her do that, than to make a list? He wasn’t precisely sure how that would work itself out, but Chloe had always been better at details.”
Chloe and Jeremy first met as teens during Wedgeford’s Trials, a quintessentially English competition involving hiding giant painted rocks. Chloe looked forward to Jeremy’s return to the village every summer, until he suddenly stopped coming three years ago after she admonished him to be serious. Jeremy’s tried to do want Chloe wants, but, well, he’s just not a serious person – though he is serious about her. Jeremy’s back in Wedgeford for one reason: to convince Chloe to marry him. How he’s going to do that, however, is still in question, until he comes up with the perfect idea. He’ll get Chloe, queen of lists, to make a list of all the qualities he wants in his future bride – someone, he says, is exactly like her. But Jeremy also has a secret he’s keeping from her, and he’s afraid it’ll ruin everything.
“He wasn’t like the heroes in any of the English storybooks Chloe had read as a child, but he hadn’t matched the stories her Ba told her, either. There had been a time, back when he’d focused on her so intently, seeking her out year after year, when she’d thought he was a story written just for her.”
I’m not usually a fan of books where the conflict between two characters revolves around a secret. But I trust this author, and I’m glad I did, because it’s handled extremely well. Overall, the book is surprisingly low conflict and comforting – I’m sure the presence of tons of mouthwatering food helps that along as well. There’s two main plots – Jeremy’s attempts to convince Chloe he’s serious about a relationship with her, and Chloe’s drive to avenge her Ah Ba, whose sauce recipe was stolen by two Englishmen, by creating an even better and more successful sauce.
“I can’t let you do all that.”
“Can’t you?” He looked over at her. “Can you truly not? Knowing what it is like to see your father not allow you to help, will you make me feel the same way?”
“That’s different,” she snapped. “I love my father.”
“Chloe.” There was a hint of reproach in his voice.”
Chloe loves lists. She makes a new list every day of what she can accomplish – if the day goes perfectly. Chloe’s drive for efficiency (and her checklists) make a lot of people think she’s cold and intimidating. Jeremy, however, from his first moments in town, recognized that it was shyness and not aloofness, and she’s always been thankful for that, even if he is her polar opposite. Jeremy is a more of a “seize the moment” sort of person, generally allergic to plans, and seemingly always prepared with a funny quip or a joke. He has his reasons for that. As the son of a British duke and a Chinese woman, he’s found it easiest to fit in as the clown as no one seems to take him seriously – not even Chloe, who’s Chinese as well. Subjecting her to the world of dukes and duchesses seems, well, not particularly kind, especially since he’s not sure he fits in there himself. What I loved about their relationship was how kind and patient Jeremy was with slowly making it clear to Chloe that she was he one he was in love with, and how he didn’t let her sell herself short. There are, of course, the requisite love scenes. They’re both virgins, but their first time manages to be both extremely honest and sexy – plus there’s a fun twist on the “only one room at the inn” trope.
“He looked at the smile on her face, the way her eyes shone. He looked at the little tassels at her ears and the tablet before her, with the character that was a part of Chloe’s name, the way that her Ah Me had been a part of Chloe’s life even after she’d gone. It was an incalculable loss, but it was not a complete one. Chloe’s Ah Me had never been entirely absent.”
And that has to be one of my favorite things about this book. Everyone knows that romances generally follow the same beats and use the same tropes, and it’s the way that authors assemble those blocks together that makes a book exceptional. Ms. Milan takes those tropes, flips them inside out, and rips your heart into pieces in the process – and makes you love it. There are a few themes that particularly struck me, as well, including one about toxic relationships with people who love you but can’t accept you for yourself. They may mean well, but intentions aren’t everything, and sometimes the only way to move forward is to shuck off those relationships. But my absolutely favorite part was how Chloe’s relationship with her dead mother was written. Even though all she has of her are her Ah Ba’s stories some jewelry, Chloe still talks to her every day, still tells her every one of her dreams and wishes and disappointments. It’s a small part of the book, in terms of all the other themes covered, but it was the one that was the most poignant for me.
“A kiss is for closing the door on old memories. A kiss is for good-bye.”
“Not mine.” He leaned over her. “Not mine. If I kiss you, it’s a beginning.”
Overall, I absolutely adored Chloe and Jeremy’s story. If you’re looking for something low conflict but still full of all the feels, I highly recommend this book!