Thoughts After Reading:
I've been following Caroline Linden's "The Truth About the Duke" series since the beginning, so I was quite interested when I saw that the final installment - The Way to a Duke's Heart - had been released. And honestly, my feelings upon completing the book are split. On one hand, the gist of the characters and storyline felt disappointingly formulaic. The complex backstory of the degenerate duke, the emotionally-shielded heroine with a ruined reputation, the fact that the heroine's initial appeal derives from her being the first woman not to fall at the hero's feet, the worries the heroine feels as the relationship develops, and even the grand resolution... It all felt like I've read it a thousand times, in almost the exact same sequence. At the same time, though, it's almost impossible not to like Linden's latest novel. The storyline, backstory, continuing mystery plot, and even characters are impeccably written, including both considerable depth and witty comedy. The result is a novel that is - almost in spite of itself - fully engaging throughout and triumphantly happy at the end.
Both the hero and heroine have had to deal with their share of life's travesties. The hero developed a youthful love for a woman in his early twenties, but his father effectively stopped the marriage from happening. The father believed the woman to be a social-climber. The hero never forgave his father for this, and eventually settled into a life of debauchery and idleness as a result. The heroine, meanwhile, fell for a man with charm but no substance as a young woman. She wised up to the truth right before the wedding, and delievered a scathing set-down to the man in question at the wedding ceremony. Ruined, and not wanting to known as a jilt, she and her aunt concocted a widow identity to remain respectable. The heroine reacted to her pain in a very different way than the hero. She created an emotional shell, threw herself into learning business and accounting, and developed herself into a no-nonsense persona. She has no use for idle flattery, far preferring men to consider her an intellectual equal. The hero and heroine run into each other at a hotel by chance, and the hero starts following the heroine when he finds out she knows a man he's trying to track down. It doesn't take long for him to realize she's not involved in the mystery plot (which continues from the first two books in the series), but by that time he is increasingly intrigued by the heroine's down-to-earth personality. The hero, in turn, has a considerable depth of character that the heroine slowly discovers as they spend time with each other. The feelings of intrigue gradually turn to passion, and love is not far behind. There's a little bit of angst and running away, but again - it's fairly standard plot development, and never becomes overwhelming. The way in which the mystery of the entire series is tied up was a bit convenience, but I was more or less happy with it.
I personally felt that the overall plot elements in Caroline Linden's The Way to a Duke's Heart were fairly run-of-the-mill, and that bothered me a bit. But it's hard to deny the overall quality of the novel. The writing was excellent throughout, with just enough clever humor to provide comic relief from time to time. I felt very emotionally invested in the characters by the time the final conflicts and resolutions presented themselves, and therefore enjoyed the triumphant HEA at the end. As a whole, I would recommend reading The Way to a Duke's Heart... but most particularly if if you've already read the first two installments of the series.