The fourth book in Erica Ridley’s 12 Dukes of Christmas series is a shiny, glittering star of a read, that may well have just become my favourite of her books!
Book: Never Say Duke by Erica Ridley
Read before: No
Ownership: E-ARC provided by the author for fair review. All opinions my own.
Oh, this book was so sweet! I was a little apprehensive on starting this one, as the heroine is Virginia Underwood, who has been a background character in the previous three books. I’ve found her to be a bit annoying, as she has a habit of speaking in airy nature-related metaphors and then wandering off mid-conversation – BUT. Getting to see her as a POV character was amazing, as you really get to understand her, and she ended up becoming one of my favourite romance heroines.
Virginia is almost certainly autistic. This is not explicitly stated, as the term really wasn’t used until the 20th century, but she has a lot of traits that would be recognised as such today. She can’t abide crowds, or overwhelming sensory input; doesn’t know when to make eye contact or how to make small talk. She has very niche interests and is a keen observer of situations. People think she’s weird – to the point that her parents, seeing that she wasn’t going to be a success in society, put her in an insane asylum on the other side of the country. Yeah. Virginia’s been through a lot.
But she’s so strong – she escaped from the asylum and made a life for herself in Cressmouth. One that works for her on her own terms. As more of her backstory was revealed, I felt so strongly for her! It was really interesting to realise that I’d been much the same as her horrible parents when I assumed that she was just a quirky background character. Actually, reading this book, you can see how wonderfully caring and nurturing Virginia is. I fell completely in love with her.
But that would make a terrible romance novel, so luckily there’s someone else who can fall in love with her too – Theodore, Viscount Orpington, who’s anonymously come to Cressmouth to recover from terrible war wounds. He is, understandably, pretty crotchety at the beginning of the book, as he has badly injured his leg, to the point that he needs a wheelchair to get around, and his face has been scarred. He has no interest in anything other than sitting alone in the dark until he has healed. Luckily, Virginia, with her experience of caring for the town’s animals, is well aware that’s a terrible way to heal, and takes charge of his recovery. As she puts him through physical therapy, she also starts to melt his hardened heart…
Honestly, these two are so perfect for each other that it makes me grin. They are both so kind and loving, but have been forced to squash it down in order to get along, so seeing them warm up to each other is wonderful. I particularly loved how completely accepting Theodore was of Virginia, which was such a shock to her. How wonderful for her to find someone who sees her as she is truly, and has no interest in making her do things she is uncomfortable with. There’s a great moment where he offers to do something for her, and she says something like, “I’d rather just take one new experience at a time,”, and he instantly accepts that and changes his plans. He makes her so comfortable, and that comfort and openness and acceptance between them is what makes this romance so lovely to read.
Oh, and I’d be remiss not to mention my favourite character: Duke. Duke is a big ornery fluffball of a cat, who provides the initial reason for our two lovers-to-be to meet. He is so much fun! I love when books include cats, and Duke is a perfectly catty cat, with realistic catty traits. He made me smile so much. I hope we see more of him in cameos in later books!
This book is a little less Christmassy than the others, being set in April. Although Cressmouth celebrates Christmas all year round, the introverted personalities of our two leads means that there is less interaction between them and the villagers, so there’s not as much festivity as in previous books. I think this could easily be read all year round! It’s just absolutely lovely. It’s definitely become my favourite in this series, if not of all of Erica’s books, and any fans of historical romance should pick it up immediately. Five out of five cats!