If there’s one thing that makes me want to pick up a historical romance novel, it’s a good play on words in the title, so I couldn’t resist How to Love a Duke in Ten Days! It ended up not being at all what I thought, but I loved it regardless. There is some sensitive content, but it’s handled well, and sits within a very fun adventure!
Book: How to Love a Duke in Ten Days by Kerrigan Byrne
Read before: No
Ownership: E-ARC sent by publisher free of charge. All opinions my own
Content warning: On page rape, and extensive discussion of it throughout the book.
Famed and brilliant, Lady Alexandra Lane has always known how to look out for to herself. But nobody would ever expect that she has darkness in her past—one that she pays a blackmailer to keep buried. Now, with her family nearing bankruptcy, Alexandra strikes upon a solution: Get married to one of the empire’s most wealthy eligible bachelors. Even if he does have the reputation of a devil.
LOVE TAKES NO PRISONERS
Piers Gedrick Atherton, the Duke of Redmayne, is seeking revenge and the first step is securing a bride. Winning a lady’s hand is not so easy, however, for a man known as the Terror of Torcliff. Then, Alexandra enters his life like a bolt of lightning. When she proposes marriage, Piers knows that, like him, trouble haunts her footsteps. But her gentleness, sharp wit, independent nature, and incredible beauty awakens every fierce desire within him. He will do whatever it takes to keep her safe in his arms.
I feel I should be very upfront about this, and I’m sorry if this is considered a spoiler, but it happens in the very first chapter and I feel it is more important that readers are protected. This is a book about the heroine, Alexandra, recovering from being raped as a teenager, and dealing with the fact that she killed her rapist in self-defense. The rape itself happens on page in the (long!) prologue of the book, then we jump ten years forward to see the life she has made for herself, and how falling in love helps her to heal and overcome her fear of men. The blurb does not make this clear, and had I not glanced at the dedication (“To every survivor. #metoo”) I would not have been in any way prepared for the detailed description in the prologue. This is not adequate warning. I’m lucky that I spotted the dedication, as Kindle books so often open straight to the beginning of the text, skipping the front material, and this was the only kind of content warning I got, since the ‘darkness in the past’ mentioned in the blurb is not specific in any way, and given the genre, is more likely to imply that she had been caught in a consensual sexual situation and “ruined”. Either way, it definitely implies that it would be in the backstory and not on the page. I wish that publishers would take more care of their readers with content warnings, especially in romance, where readers expect healthy, consensual sex scenes.
I want to be clear that I loved this book, and thought that once past the actual rape scene, Alexandra’s story is handled extremely respectfully. I just worry that if not highlighted, this scene could upset people. If it would be too much for you, but you would like to read the rest, you could skip the prologue without losing much other than some nice moments where Alexandra’s friends take care of her.
Moving on: I adored Alexandra. It’s brilliant to see a heroine who is so brave, and so determined to make things work in the ways she demands. She has a lot of fear, but is still a well-rounded and capable character who is a joy to read about. She’s an archaeologist, has been to university in Europe, and has a close group of female friends from school, who supported her in dealing with the aftermath – they literally helped her bury a body! She’s built a life for herself that she can be content with, and it’s only the fact that someone is blackmailing her that is stopping her being happy. I really loved her, and I thought she was a wonderful character for people to see as a survivor – her fears and triggers are really sensitively written, and you never get the sense that she is less because of her past.
The main part of the book begins with Alexandra on her way to her friend Francesca’s wedding to a duke known as ‘the Terror of Torcliff’, having received a note from Francesca that she feels herself to be in danger. Since Alexandra is smart and practical, and has such a close bond with her friends, it’s no surprise that she plots a course of action that kills two birds with one stone: she offers to marry the duke herself, thus saving Francesca from a loveless marriage, and gaining for herself the funds to continue to pay off her blackmailer. Her own fear of men in general and the marriage bed in particular is brushed aside in an instant for the sake of practicality – oh, I just loved how no-nonsense she was when it came to protecting those who had protected her! From there, the book is a whirlwind blend of adventure, mystery and romance that had me turning pages as fast as possible. There’s a lot packed in, but it’s tied together seamlessly, and it made me laugh in several places, even while it dealt with the heavier material. It’s a genuinely fun book – and how wonderful is that, to see that past trauma doesn’t deny these characters a fun story too?
Piers, the aforementioned ‘Terror’, is an extremely enjoyable hero. He’s scarred both physically and mentally, and while this leads to him having a reputation for being fearsome and domineering, as Alexandra gets to know him it’s clear that he is caring and patient. His reactions to Alexandra’s triggers are, for the most part, very understanding (obviously some tension is needed in the relationship, so there are places where he misinterprets things), and he does a fantastic job of making her feel safe and loved. The chemistry between the two characters is palpable, which is great to read as it makes the relationship believable, and allows so much growth on both their parts as they come to terms with their mental wounds. He is pretty much instantly smitten, and shows it in dozens of tiny, thoughtful gestures, and that’s my favourite kind of hero. He is possessive, but not aggressively “alpha”, and his protective nature perfectly matches Alexandra’s need to keep her loved ones safe. They’re a great team.
There are shades of Beauty and the Beast in the story, and also the archaeological hijinks and Alexandra’s personality reminded me of The Mummy (one of my favourite films). Despite the heavy subject matter, it manages to be a whole lot of fun – I enjoyed it so much! What needs to be handled sensitively is done brilliantly, and what needs to be a fun counterbalance to the darker stuff is a real romp.
Four out of five cats, and I’d consider upping that to five if an appropriate content warning was added!