The Hazards of Hunting a Duke (The Desperate Debutantes)
by Julia London
CAI: Even without the subtitle it becomes very obvious from no less than the second chapter that this is a planned trio (at least) of books. Ava Fairchild, her industrious sister Phoebe and their orphaned cousin Greer have all been told from a very young age what they should expect from marriage – convenience, position, children, and little else. Still, it appears that all three would prefer to have love be part of that equation.
STEPHANIE: For me, it was a bit unclear as to the relationship between the three girls. It was eventually spelled out, but the initial meeting left me wondering who each girl was. I would have liked a bit more definition of the three. Still, I was engaged from the start in their problems as their less-than-caring stepfather and known reprobate abandoned them at their mother’s death.
CAI: The death of Ava & Phoebe’s mother brings their situation to a critical head. Ava determines she must marry, and marry well in order to save herself, her sister and their cousin. Greer and Phoebe aren’t sitting idly by while Ava is making her plans. They are devising their own ways of rebuilding their nearly empty coffers…but those stories will have to wait…
STEPHANIE: Although we lose Greer almost immediately as she hares off to find her lost relatives who might or might not have money. Sporadic letters from her bait and tease the reader. Will Greer’s story be next or will Phoebe’s? My guess is that it will be Phoebe’s and that Greer’s mysterious notes will be sprinkled through Phoebe’s story as well.
CAI: The Duke in question is Jared, Lord Middleton. Currently a Marquis, Jared is a rake (of course) with no little love for his father or the exalted title he can expect to inherit as his father’s only heir. Jared’s father has picked out the perfect bride for his recalcitrant son. A somewhat vague lady of impeccable birth and position. One who is more than delighted with the prospect of marriage to the handsome Marquis. Jared, on the other hand, is completely appalled. He eventually does agree to marriage, only to sire a legitimate heir, but totally refuses his father’s choice of brides.
STEPHANIE: Jared is a rather typical Regency hero. He’s handsome. He’s immune to love. However the reason he is immune to love is a fascinating hook. His parents’ marriage was less than convenient so Jared thinks love is unobtainable. The anger and animosity between father and son is, at times, overdone, but it does build to a good end.
CAI: Ava hasn’t set her sights quite so high as Jared, but circumstances put them together and the passion between them is undeniable. After an extremely short acquaintance, and in less than ideal circumstances, Jared proposes to Ava. He tells her it is not a love match, but that he does desire her and that he will provide not only for her, but also for her family.
STEPHANIE: Here is where London nearly lost me. It was so convoluted at the beginning as to need a map! I wasn’t even sure I wanted Jared and Ava to get together. Ava’s views of marriage were so totally juxtaposed to Jared’s that I couldn’t see how they were going to make it. And there is what hooked me.
CAI: For her part, Ava is delighted…at first. Then things begin to change. She realizes she has married a complete stranger and not only that, she finds herself falling in love with him and wanting his love in return. Ava employs the “wisdom” of her not-so-acceptable lady’s maid to learn how to seduce her own husband. She succeeds in seducing his mind and body, but she is not sure of his heart.
STEPHANIE: Ava’s not-quite-a-lady lady’s maid could have been used a bit more. Jared is let in on the secret of the lady’s maid far too soon. It would have been more fun to have him wondering where his innocent young wife got her seduction ideas! Still, the scenes were incredibly amusing and had me laughing out loud on several occasions.
CAI: There are, of course, well-meaning friends, an old mistress (or possibly two), several misunderstandings, and the inevitable quarrel between the lovers. However…the resolution Julia London employs is quite unique. I thoroughly enjoyed this book – the black moment for Ava was heart-wrenching, Jared’s brought tears to my eyes, and yet…I felt some anger toward both characters, wanting only to reach into the book and knock some sense into them.
STEPHANIE: The cast of characters was well-balanced and necessary. I found myself matching Greer and Phoebe up with Jared’s two friends. But I agree with Cai on the black moments for the two characters. There was a line in this book that had me in tears. I won’t spoil it for you though. Still, I rank this as one of the best black moments I’ve ever read. I can still remember that scene. That’s how well it was done.
CAI: The eventual reconciliation was amazingly and most uniquely well-done. I give this one a full standing cheer and I look forward to reading Phoebe and Greer’s stories and hope that Julia London won’t leave out the somewhat annoying Lord Stanhope and the intriguing Lord Harrison.
STEPHANIE: London’s storytelling is typical Regency fare. Anyone could tell this story. It is her voice that lifts this one out of the mass of books and on to my Keeper shelf. It is her skillful painting of the emotional portraits of these two characters that have me standing in the bleachers, pom-poms on full wave and cheering my brains out. I highly recommend this one and will be on the look out for the next book in this series.