Get your biscuits ready because the third book in Jenni Fletcher’s Regency Belles of Bath series is here to sweep you off your feet and make you hungry!
Book: The Duke’s Runaway Bride by Jenni Fletcher
Read before: No
Ownership: E-ARC sent free of charge by author. All opinions my own.
Content warnings: Mention of parental death in backstory; mention of childhood neglect.
In case you’re somehow out of the loop, Jenni Fletcher is one of my all-time favourite romance authors! I really love the way she writes her heroes to be just as emotionally complex and thoughtful as her heroines, and her books are always guaranteed to be genuinely romantic and heart-warming. I really enjoyed the previous books in this series, An Unconventional Countess and Unexpectedly Wed to the Officer (reviews here and here), and The Duke’s Runaway Bride is a great continuation of the series, offering an inversion of the marriage of convenience trope that has a really interesting perspective on women’s independence. We’ve met our heroine in the last book, as a new employee at Belles, the biscuit shop in Bath that this series revolves around, but under an assumed name, and it was clear she was hiding something in her background – but no one expected that she was really a duchess! Beatrix ran away from her arranged marriage on their wedding day (though rather unusually, she did it after the ceremony) in order to gain some independence in her life, and now she wants the husband she’s never really known, the Duke of Howden, to grant her a divorce so she can keep the mundane life she’s come to love. Quinton, on the other hand, doesn’t want to put his family through the scandal, so he persuades her to give him a second chance: try life as a duchess for six weeks, and then decide whether she wants that divorce or not. She agrees, certain nothing could tempt her into maintaining her marriage with Quinton – but of course, this being the genre it is, there’s more to tempt her than she expects…
As with the previous books in this series, The Duke’s Runaway Bride offers an incisive look at another facet of the issue of women’s independence in the Regency. Beatrix is hugely opposed to marriage; having been under the strict control of a neglectful family in her childhood and adolescence, she can’t see marriage as anything but her having been sold for her money into another house where she’ll be ignored. All three heroines so far have had some of this this struggle between enjoying their independent lives as working women and finding love that may require that life to be sacrificed, but Bea’s story seems to portray this dilemma most strongly. You do need to suspend a certain amount of disbelief as regards her willingly leaving an advantageous marriage seemingly on a whim, but I’ve seen far more fantastical set-ups in historical romance, and in herself Bea is never anything less than believable. I really enjoyed seeing the marriage of convenience trope (one of my favourites!) flipped on its head by her out-and-out rebellion.
Once again, I’m probably going to spend the rest of this review raving about the emotional connection between Beatrix and Quinton – it’s just that this series has such wonderful relationships that grow from sweet and strong friendships! From the very outset, Quinton comes across as patient, kind, and understanding of Beatrix’s needs, which is a fantastic start given how wary she is of anyone trying to control her – the respect he offers her is key to not only their relationship, but also her personal growth away from her childhood trauma. Quinton, for his part, is someone who’s been suppressing his emotions for years in order to keep his family on a steady path away from scandal and financial ruin, and Beatrix is able to show him the benefits of relinquishing that tight grip on his own feelings. Even before they fall in love, they’re strong foils for each other to see what they’re missing in their lives, and I loved their connection. Plus, I’ll always be here for another wonderfully respectful Fletcher hero!
I also absolutely loved the secondary characters in this book! I was a little sad when the action moved away from Bath, as we didn’t get to see much of the side characters I’d fallen in love with at Belles, but Quinton’s family more than make up for it. I really enjoyed his array of siblings, all very different but equally entertaining, but my favourite was his mother, the dowager Duchess, who absolutely hates Beatrix for running away and leaving them to deal with the scandal. She’s bitchy and awful, yes, and it’s delightful to read her insults, but I also felt for her enormously. She’s a woman whose choices were just as limited as Bea’s, but she had to make the most of her independence within her marriage, and can’t understand how Bea could have neglected her duty to her new family by running off – it’s a very interesting comparison, and I loved the way her subplot unfolded. I also had great fun with outspoken Lady Jarrow, who could give Julia Quinn’s Lady Danbury a run for her money in terms of plain-speaking and sass!
I do have to admit that there are slightly fewer biscuits in this book than in the previous instalments, but if you’re someone like me who’s easily tempted into book-themed snacking, that might be a blessing! And biscuits or not, this is a gorgeously romantic read perfect for those who like their romance liberally sprinkled with characters you can fall in love with. Five out of five cats!