Review: The Desperate Duke

The Desperate Duke audiobook cover. A sweet, illustrated, comic style image of a yoing woman in a maid's apron and mob cap, and a young man carrying processed cotton. The Desperate Duke by Sheri Cobb South.
My rating: 3 of 5 stars ⭐⭐⭐
Duration: 5 hrs 52 mins.

The Desperate Duke, Weaver book 4 by Sheri Cobb South is a sweet, clean, period romance guaranteed to have a happy ending. When poor, gentle Daphne finds herself tangled with a wayward Duke, the connection changes both their fortunes.

Audible summary: A duke in disguise...a damsel in distress...a match made in - Manchester? 

When 23-year-old Theodore Radney becomes the Duke of Reddington after his father dies, the weight of his new responsibilities is enough to send him into a panic. Theo soon accumulates a pile of debts - and discovers he can’t touch his inheritance until his father’s will is probated. His brother-in-law, mill owner Ethan Brundy, lends him the money, with one caveat: Theo will repay the loan by working in the mill. 

Daphne Drinkard and her mother have fallen on hard times, and are now reduced to taking in boarders. When a Parliamentary candidate hires the dining room for a series of political meetings, Daphne knows he might be her last chance for an advantageous marriage. Still, she’s far more intrigued by the boardinghouse’s newest resident. Mr. Tisdale is obviously a gentleman - but why would a gentleman be working in a cotton mill?

The Desperate Duke is as nice and gentle a book as its heroine, though never quite perfects the arresting technique at whose efficacy Daphne marvels... The characters are all very affable, save the necessarily sleazy antagonists, and whilst it does leave them seeming a little flat they are too agreeable to dislike.

It is a fun, lightweight audiobook which makes a very pleasant attempt to imitate the 'Regency Romance' style. Whilst it does feel very much like a contemporary interpretation rather than a faithful example of the traditional style, I would expect that to give the book a broader appeal. Traditional Regencies can be a little dry for those who are not used to the wry observations and often subtle humour, and I've known plenty of people to find that off-putting. This audiobook felt as though it was well enough researched to demonstrate an affinity for the period without making any assumptions about the listener's familiarity with the era. Sometimes the author's attempts to drop in historical references felt a little forced, as though they had come across the interesting tidbit in their research and were determined to include it, but listeners new to the genre would no doubt appreciate the additional colour.

It did occasionally feel as though it was trying a little too hard to bridge the gap between contemporary interpretation and traditional style. The repeated use of deliberately-archaic words and phrases like "betook/betake" was often somewhat incongruous, but not so much as to be irritating.

The betrothal scene felt a touch anachronistic in style, as the notion of proposing on one knee with a proffered ring is, I believe, a little more modern. It has been many years since I wrote about engagement rings and their history, but rings were often presented later, if at all, once the betrothal had been established. It may not be as out of place as it felt, however, and life has conspired to keep me from researching the matter this week.

My only real gripe with the story was with the epilogue - set in 2018 - which was perplexing and didn't really help with the aforementioned contemporary slant. It felt like the set up to a subsequent novel, but one which could not be part of the same series, as even if it were a family saga the jump in time is too vast for it to comfortably follow. All it served to do was rip me out of the world I'd just left without allowing time to ponder the end of the story. It was not badly done, just unnecessary.

The narrator Noah Michael Levine was charming. His performance was lively and very entertaining, though it took me quite a while to 'get my ear in'. I have never listened to a historical romance set mainly in the North of England which contains such a transatlantic mixture of accents. It was initially rather confusing because many of the characters spoke with something approximating British RP, and others with a sort of Dickensian mockney, but the general narration had a distinctive American twang; complete with US pronunciations. It took me quite a while to settle into the rhythm of this style, and it is testament to the narrator's ability to engage his audience that I was inclined to persevere.

There were several mispronunciations of relatively common words (cravat, curate, Duke, and the notoriously deceptive Edinburgh), but overall Levine's performance was a good one. It was a shame that the regional accents did not match the locations described in the book, though. Many of the chapters involve Manchester, Lancashire, and Yorkshire but - whilst the accents he does are very characterful - they only really distinguish general class rather than region. I doubt this would concern a US audience, but it does stick out quite a way to anyone familiar with those areas, and even as a Southerner I couldn't help but notice.

I'd recommend this to US listeners who want to dip their toe into the exceedingly-British world of Regency romance in a fashion that is accessible and not so formal as to be unrecognisable. Equally, anyone who is more accustomed to contemporary romance or finds traditional Regencies too stiff may well fare better with this book than other examples of the genre. For die-hard fans of Austen, or even Heyer, it will likely not pass muster, but it is a sweet little love story nonetheless.

*I received this audiobook free of charge in exchange for an honest, unbiased review.

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