Bringing Down the Duke is a steamy historical romance about a suffragette / Oxford student struggling to make ends meet and a duke who agrees to support the Tory agenda (including suppressing the women’s vote) in exchange for the Queen giving him back his ancestral estate. It’s a fun read overall, with a bit of a Pride and Prejudice feel, as the chemistry between Annabelle and Sebastian is very much rooted in a meeting of their minds. The attraction between them is undeniable, as is the differences in their social strata, and both understand from the beginning that, as a duke, the best Sebastian can offer Annabelle is a place as his mistress. (Fortunately, unlike Darcy, he’s never mean about it; rather, they both have an honest conversation about the realities of where anything between them could lead.)
Both Annabelle and Sebastian are complex, multi-layered characters. I love Sebastian’s struggle to uphold his family name, and I love Annabelle’s struggle to break out of the mold that her financial situation imposes upon her. Both have been burned in love before, and this influences how they approach each other, both equally cognizant of the attraction between them yet also wary of once again making the wrong decision in romance.
I love how Dunmore portrays the delicate balance Annabelle must maintain in her society. She’s super smart — because of the circumstances of her scholarship, also obligated to participate in suffragette gatherings, and because of her intelligence, she ends up taking a leadership role in the cause. At the same time, she’s not of the upper class, and must therefore talk to socialites with deference. There’s a wonderful scene where a wealthy man, upon learning that Annabelle is a suffragette, baits her at a dinner party by citing a woman writer who says that women’s brains are suited for homemaking and cannot be trusted for weightier subjects like politics. When he demands to know what Annabelle thinks, she responds that if women’s brains are not to be trusted, then why should anyone trust this writer? She says it mildly enough that it’s not an outright insult, but her point is also so accurate that the man is humiliated. I love that Annabelle is fiery enough to answer back, but also cognizant enough of her own social station to temper her emotions.
I also love how honest Annabelle and Sebastian are with each other. Despite differences in their opinions, and differences in their social standings, they have wonderfully frank conversations about politics, family and the potential futures for their relationship. It’s like they can be most fully themselves with each other, and that to me is always the necessary ingredient for a successful happily ever after.
Overall, this is a fun, flirty book full of witty banter and genteel elements of wealth in the Victorian era. It’s the first in a series, and given how much I liked meeting the other women in Annabelle’s suffragette circle, I look forward to future novels.
Thank you Penguin Random House Canada for a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.