I’ve been eagerly awaiting the release of the last four books in Erica Ridley’s 12 Dukes of Christmas series – she’s released four a year for the last two years in September, October, November and December. It’s finally time for this year’s set to begin, and Dawn with a Duke is an adorable instalment!
Book: Dawn with a Duke by Erica Ridley
Read before: No
Publication date: 4th September 2020.
Ownership: E-ARC provided free of charge by author. All opinions my own.
Dawn with a Duke is the first of the series not to take place in the picturesque Christmas-themed village of Cressmouth itself. Both the hero and heroine are headed there when a snowstorm forces them to take shelter in a nearby inn in Houville (yes, you read that right!), and when Lady Isabelle’s maid falls sick, leaving her trapped in a gown she can’t undo herself, she’s forced to ask the occupant of the room next door to help her undress… That just so happens to be Calvin MacAlistair, whose brilliance as a tailor certainly helps when it comes to buttons, but whose attractions might just make it impossible for Belle to resist!
Belle is the stifled sister of the wealthy Duke of Nottingvale, heading to his home in Cressmouth to attend his famous Christmas party; Calvin is an up-and-coming tailor hoping to proposition for that same Duke to invest in his ready-to-wear clothing range. Belle feels she has no purpose in life, forced as she is to play the role of a proper duke’s sister, and though she would love to be known for her artwork, she isn’t taken seriously unless she uses a male pseudonym. But Calvin, isolated from his business partner by the storm, is in dire need of someone to finish the illustrations in his catalogue, and when Belle undertakes the project, she discovers what it is like to truly be useful, while Calvin learns what it’s like to be able to rely on someone else for once. Their physical chemistry is impossible to ignore, but what makes this a gorgeously soft and cute book is the meeting of minds that is so evident between them. They both blossom in each other’s company, and it’s so sweet and comforting to read; sometimes a low stakes love story is just what you want.
This book is, in a word, adorable. It’s completely fluffy – two strangers meeting in weird circumstances and slowly falling head over heels for each other. There’s almost no external action to create drama, just the characters’ personalities and situations – the only real obstacle they face from outside themselves is the snowstorm that keeps them trapped in the inn, and even that becomes welcome, as it allows them to spend time with each other. There are almost no other characters present, either! It’s pretty much a bottle episode of a book and one that would be the ideal thing to curl up with over a hot chocolate on a cold winter’s afternoon. One thing that Erica Ridley does really well is the conversations between characters where you can see their attitudes towards each other change, and this book is absolutely full of them – no romance novel can ever be described as a slow burn, but the sheer amount of space these two have to get to know each other means you can really bathe in the romance.
I had a couple of minor nitpicks, but nothing that spoiled the story very much (though this paragraph may contain mild spoilers!). Firstly, the plot wraps up rather too hastily; 90% of the book is, as I say, just Belle and Calvin quietly getting to know each other in the inn, then the inevitable third act realisation that they can’t be together comes very late in the game, leading to a very rushed scene at the end where everything is made right in a matter of paragraphs. I know you have to suspend disbelief for a lot of Happily Ever Afters where the parties are of different stations, but this seemed far too easily fixed even for historical romance! Secondly, when Belle reveals her identity as just ‘Lady Isabelle’ to Calvin and he instantly knew who she was, it bothered me a lot. The correct style for a duke’s daughter (according to Debrett’s, which is name-checked in the book several times) is Lady Firstname Lastname, not just Lady Firstname unless she is already known to someone. Given the popularity of the name, there must have been at least a few Lady Isabelles dotted around the country! I’m not sure her surname was even mentioned – it’s a tiny detail in the grand scheme of things, but a little immersion breaking.
That being said, I still enjoyed this immensely. If you’re a reader of fluffy holiday fanfic, this has just that sort of happy, comfortable feel – and if you’re not, but you still like the actual romance to really be the focus of your romance novels, then this will be perfect. I’m looking forward to the next book, too, which is set concurrently with this one, and focuses on Calvin’s business partner and just what he was up to during that snowstorm… Four out of five cats!