Series: Once Upon a Dukedom #3
Published by Avon on July 26, 2022
FINAL DECISION: A historical spy novel with a woman of questionable morals at the center. I loved this book because the darkness in both the main characters brings them together, yet there is something sweet and light between them. Concludes the series satisfyingly.
THE STORY: Marcus Stanwick has prepared his whole life to become the Duke of Wolfford. His future is smashed when his father is hanged for an assassination attempt on Queen Victoria, and the family’s titles and properties are stripped from them. Now Marcus is working to uncover his father’s co-conspirators. At a dead end, he goes to the person he has avoided approaching — the woman reputed to be his father’s mistress. Esme Lancaster is also looking at who else was involved in the conspiracy for her own reasons. While she doesn’t want to work with Marcus, she has no choice but to join him in searching for the conspiracy. Marcus and Esme discover that their preconceptions of the other don’t fit the reality. And the reality is that the two begin to realize that there is a strong attraction between them.
OPINION: This book was unexpected. It has more of a historical spy feel as Marcus and Esme try to determine who has been plotting to kill Queen Victoria. While adjacent to the world of ballrooms, this book takes place in the shadowy places of London. I enjoyed the different emphasis in the story as some of the historical issues of the time are explored.
And I loved Marcus and Esme. Both had their expected lives pulled out from under them and yet managed to be caring people. We finally find out what Marcus has been doing during the timeline of the other books in the series.
Marcus was more thoughtful and self-examining than I had expected. When he first met Esme, I worried he would be a total jerk to her. (Ok, honestly, he is terrible to her at the first meeting, but a reader can be assured that only lasts a moment.) Based on his obsession-laden appearances in previous books, I hadn’t expected to like him so much. I found that he is a caring person and ultimately reasonable as he quickly begins to understand Esme and even has empathy for her.
Esme is an incredible heroine. I especially liked that Heath made her more modern thinking without making her feel ahistorical (as many romance writers are wont to do these days). Esme is a trailblazer in how she lives her life and what she has chosen to do with herself. At the same time, she has soft edges, and it is clear that she is strong enough to live alone but needs someone who will love and care for her.
And that is what makes this book so good for me. Esme and Marcus have both been betrayed and have lived in darkness. In one another, they find understanding, companionship, and love. They are such a good couple who talks to one another and seek understanding rather than being immature and jumping to conclusions. Their relationship feels mature, and when their happy ending comes, I’m not surprised, and I’m assured that they will love one another forever.
My final enjoyment of this book is that appearances are made by all the main characters from the series and also from the Sins for all Seasons books.
WORTH MENTIONING: Dr. Graves from the Scoundrels of St. James series has an important (but off the page) role in this book.
CONNECTED BOOKS: THE RETURN OF THE DUKE is the third book in the Once Upon a Dukedom series. The book can be read as a standalone, although there is an overarching story for the series that is resolved here. Enough information is given but there are significant appearances from characters from both this series and also from the Sins for All Seasons series. This book is also a bridge to the Chessmen series.
STAR RATING: I give this book 4.5 stars.