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Review: The Duke's Wayward Ward

The Duke's Wayward Ward audiobook cover. A woman stand in a red and gold ballgown stands in a sweeping staircase. The Duke's Wayward Ward by Claudia Stone.
My rating: 3 of 5 stars ⭐⭐⭐
Duration: 5 hrs 39 mins.
#BennetSistersScale: Kitty - 🌹🌹🌹 Filled with elements that should make this audiobook a Lizzy, it never quite lives up to its potential.

The Duke's Wayward Ward by Claudia Stone is a Regency romance with a dash of mystery. Will the Duke evade his attacker for long enough to fall in love, or is his future - and that of his young ward - truly in mortal peril? 

Audible Summary: When Lady Emma Percival's father dies, leaving her penniless and alone, she fears that she will end up on the streets. Help is at hand, albeit from an unlikely source, when it transpires that her father has appointed his greatest enemy to be her guardian. The Duke of Liscarroll is a cold-hearted brute whom Emma spars with at every turn, but soon their angry altercations turn to something else entirely....
Peter William Brazil, Sixth Duke of Liscarroll, finds himself strong-armed by his mother into accepting Lady Emma as his ward. Though he is loath to have anything to do with the Percival family, he does want to get his hands on the priceless manuscript the late Earl bequeathed him in his will, on condition that he finds Lady Emma a suitable husband. Peter fully intends to have Lady Emma married off and out of his house within a fortnight, but there's something about the fiery, young lady that sparks his interest, and soon he's not sure that he wants to let her go at all.

The Duke's Wayward Ward is, in many ways, a classic 'enemies to lovers' Regency romance. Emma and Liscarroll are both unhappy about the arrangement which throws them into each other's path so unceremoniously, but it is clear from the beginning that they are very well suited. As with most novels of this type, the question is not so much 'will they or won't they get together' but 'when and how'. Despite Regencies' adherence to a fairly standard formula, it is the journey that makes them interesting, and it is for that reason that I was so disappointed to see the Publisher's Summary give so much away. It would have been much more enjoyable if I had not known so many of the key developments from the start, so I have omitted the final paragraph of the Audible summary, above, to spare you a few spoilers. 

I liked the Duke of Liscarroll immensely, as I did his mother, Georgette, the Dowager Duchess. It was very disconcerting to have her referred to as "Georgette" throughout the novel, instead of by her title. It was so informal and unusual that it kept pulling me out of the period. (Though query the butler being called Heyer it was a nice nod to one of the genre's undisputed greats.) Her relationship with her son was a little unconventional but very entertaining, and she brought a lot of humour to this audiobook.

It took me slightly longer to warm to Emma, as her personality was not as gregarious as that of the Brazils. I also required a little while to really feel as though she was feisty enough for Liscarroll, and as a couple I didn't think the tension quite built properly between them. They didn't spar as well as was necessary to introduce the required antagonism, and the 'threats of violence' were a tad clumsily set up. There were so many moments which I really enjoyed, but I was never quite convinced that they were really opponents. Mr Darcy and Elizabeth Bennett are the best example of Regency enemies-to-lovers, but Liscarroll and Emma's annoyance with each other felt too contrived. In fact, much of this book felt very contrived, with everything falling into place very neatly time and again. I think it would have been better had it been longer, and the relationship between Peter and Emma allowed to be a slower burn, with a few more bumps in the road for them.

There are lots of period references which help anchor this audiobook to the Regency era, but much of the grammar is not of the period. (The phrase "as she had introduced herself as" appears more than once), but it retains a fair sense of the time. It would have been better had each character not taken a turn to be "apoplectic with rage", but we all have our favourite turns of phrase.

My biggest gripe came when Liscarroll was shot. Emma is a Lady, which means she should be accomplished with a needle. I'm a terrible stitcher but even I have never managed to prick my thumb so terribly that the resulting gush of blood makes it look like I've killed someone. Even my Domestic Science teacher didn't envision such an accident, and she spent half of every lesson convinced we were going to impale ourselves upon the electric sewing machines and lose an arm. Had she cut herself a little more dramatically, perhaps on sharp embroidery scissors, then it may not have made me laugh at such a dramatic moment.

The narrator, Duke and Duchess DeFoix, did a very nice job of their dual narration. He voiced the male parts, and she took on all the female passages.

I loved Duke DeFoix's narration, and found his rich, smooth voice very pleasant to listen to. I'd have happily listened to him narrate the whole book, but he worked well with Duchess DeFoix. The only moment upon which they clashed was the pronunciation of Lady Castlereagh's name, which was unfortunate.

I think, perhaps, that Duchess DeFoix does not have a natural British accent, as many of her pronunciations were unusual and her pattern of speech was reminiscent of the deliberate, overly-enunciated way Americans tend to read in RP. (Mistakes such as "portmanteau" being pronounced as PORT-mon-TOE not port-MAN-toe, and "audience" and "audibly" as ODD-ee-ence and ODD-ih-bull stuck out the most.) Her accent was very good, but his was far more natural and comfortable, which did give his narration the superior edge. I thought Duchess DeFoix did very well to convey both Emma's youthfulness and the Dowager's experience, with her range of voices being very good, and nicely varied.

For all its little niggles, The Duke's Wayward Ward was a nice, easy, romance to curl up with in the evening before bed. I enjoyed it for being lightweight and often lighthearted, and would happily have spent far longer in the company of Liscarroll and the Dowager. I will certainly listen to other Regencies by Claudia Stone, especially if they were narrated by Duke and Duchess DeFoix.

I would recommend it to anyone who wants a nice, quick Regency listen with a HEA.

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

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