Friday, January 13, 2012

Review: How to Dance With a Duke by Manda Collins (4 stars, historical)

Full Description: Amazon

Rating: 4 out of 5

Thoughts After Reading:
Even after reading the early reviews for How to Dance With a Duke, I wasn't quite sure what to expect. The cause of my uncertainty was obvious once I finished the novel - the storyline is not quite like any regency romance I've read before. For example, the marriage occurs neither towards the beginning nor the end of the novel, but instead directly at the middle. I found the unconventional romance to be both refreshing and fairly enjoyable, with only a few reservations.

The backbone of How to Dance With a Duke is most assuredly the mystery plot. The heroine's father (Lord Hurston), a noted scholar and co-founder of the "Egyptian Scholar Club" in London, suffered an apoplexy during an exploratory trip to Egypt and cannot speak anymore. The hero's brother (William), meanwhile, was the Lord Hurston's secretary on the trip and disappeared in Egypt. There are some rumors that Lord Hurston was involved with William's disappearance, and both the hero and heroine want to get to the bottom of the mystery. The hero wants to find his brother, while the heroine hopes to clear her father's name. The hero and heroine meet first in front of the Egyptian Scholar Club, and then later at typical ton events. The heroine wants to look at her father's journals from the trip for clues, which she believes are located in the club and are written in code that only she can read. Unfortunately for her, the rules of the club state that only male club members or wives of club members are allowed in the building. Her solution is to find a club member to marry, especially as she hopes that her husband will therefore share her scholarly pursuits (or at least respect them) and take care of her should her father die from his illness. When she shares her scheme with the hero, he offers to help her find a suitable club member in exchange for helping him uncover more about his brother. The marriage scheme is discarded fairly easily, as the hero and heroine spent time together working on the mystery of William's disappearance. After the heroine receives a key to the club from a mysterious benefactor (which I don't believe is ever explained to the reader), the hero and heroine search the club. They don't find the journals, but in the heat of the moment they do end up making love. The hero proposes marriage the next day as a result, which the heroine accepts after a bit of discussion. They both seem to have developed feelings for each other beyond physical attraction, but are reluctant to admit it. The heroine, in particular, was jilted by a man she thought she was in love with and is afraid of sharing her heart with the hero. This causes a strain in their marriage after a few weeks, when the heroine tries to pull back physically and emotionally. In the meantime, the mystery plot continues on as the couple continue their investigation. Both the romance and mystery plots are eventually resolved in a satisfactory manner, complete with a final villain. There is some humor scattered throughout the book in addition to intelligent dialogue, although the book doesn't seem to be going for a lighthearted feel.

The novel's best strength was that the story moved at a quick pace,  keeping the reader fully engaged.  At the same time, however, it seemed like some of the plot elements were forced a bit in order to keep the flow moving. The marriage scheme seemed an unnecessarily drastic solution and it's hard to believe that the heroine offered her virginity (in a regency setting) before she fully embraced the idea of marriage to the hero. These unsatisfactory elements led me to the suspicion that this was a new author, which seems to be the case. On the other hand, that makes Collins' ability to interweave a meaningful romance with a strong mystery plot even more exceptional. Overall, I found How to Dance With a Duke to be a pleasing read and plan on trying the next two books in the series :).

This review is based on an ARC copy I received on NetGalley.

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