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Review: Christmas in the Duke's Embrace

Christmas in the Duke's Embrace audiobook cover. A bare-chested man in an unbuttoned white shirt caresses a woman in a red dress against a snowy blue backdrop. Christmas in the Duke's Embrace by Amanda Mariel.
My rating: 3 of 5 stars ⭐⭐⭐
Duration: 2 hrs 6 mins.
#BennetSistersScale: Jane - 🌹🌹🌹🌹 Though rather too melodramatic to be a Jane, it is mostly defined by its overwhelming sweetness and neat, perfect ending.

Christmas in the Duke's Embrace, Christmas Wishes series, Book 4 by Amanda Mariel is a sweet, clean seasonal Regency novella in which two wounded people are thrown together in the snow.

Audible Summary: "Disgraced and betrayed by those she trusted most, Lady Marina Ellis finds herself near death and in desperate need of rescue. 

Evan Lockhart, never expected to find a woman buried in a snowbank outside of his ducal manor, but now that he has he cannot turn her away. 

Christmas approaches the pair form a bond neither expected, but can they overcome the obstacles standing between them and embrace their chance at love?

©2018 Amanda Mariel (P)2018 Amanda mariel."

Content warning: there is a brief reference to an attempted sexual assault. It is not central to the plot but may be upsetting for those who wish to avoid this topic altogether.

Following a brief musical introduction, we first meet our heroine as she braces herself to face her father's wrath. Lord Ellis, Earl of Langmore, has a notoriously quick and violent temper, and this is not the first time Marina has found herself on the wrong end of it. How she will fare away from his ire and control is uncertain, but it is clear that she must escape the fate he has planned for her.

Despite a few clumsy phrases, like "Father would destroy any dignity she still possessed. Drawing on every ounce of courage she possessed, Marina met his heated gaze," this story was much more polished than my first book by this author, Delighted by the Duke. The language was generally more consistent with the era this time, and there were fewer anachronistic references.

Given the hardships that Evan had endured, earning him the nickname The Death Duke, I was rooting for him to find some joy and companionship again. After experiencing so much loss it was nice that so much of the story focused upon his reawakening spirit.

I did find it odd that Marina did not confess to feeling much shame, instead expressing anger at her father for not supporting her and admitting to some guilt for upsetting her mother. Even her bitterness towards the man who forsook her was rather tame, and did not have the impact upon her interactions with Evan that one might anticipate. Though ill-treated, her mistake - for it would be viewed as a failing on her part - would have been ruinous, and I felt that her reaction failed to capture the enormity of her situation in the context of the time. There was none of the desperation and despair, or crippling shame and embarrassment, that one would expect. She lived in an era where many families would rather see their daughter dead than in her position, for a Lady's reputation and purity were all she had with which to secure her future. She should have been beside herself with anguish but instead the exposition relayed the events leading to her disgrace in far too cool and reflective a manner. Consequently, this did make the story feel as though it struggled to settle into its period setting.

It was similarly unusual for the hero and heroine to be so open with each other. Not only are their conversations striking in their candour so soon after meeting, but they are each prone to laying hands upon the other with an intimacy that would have been highly taboo at the time. It would have gone against everything each of them had been taught about propriety, and one's upbringing is hard to cast off, even in the presence of the grandest passion or truest love. The ease with which they both abandon the strict etiquette of the day is somewhat incongruous.

As this is a Christmas story it felt very apt that both Lady Marina and the Duke of Rowley were in need of a second chance at love and happiness after being shunned elsewhere. Christmas in the Duke's Embrace is a very sweet tale of redemption, wrapped up in a love-at-first-sight style romance. It is not in the least bit realistic or complex, but is a nice little story nonetheless, and ideal for playing in the background while wrapping presents.

This was my first audiobook narrated by Martin Royal and I enjoyed his performance. His reading was very expressive and the voices he gave the characters were good, with diverse accents helping give the story depth. His Duke did sound like a bit of a 'Hooray Henry' at first, but that is probably a more accurate portrayal of a nobleman than the more clipped voices of titled gentlemen that I am accustomed to hearing in Regencies. (I tend to think of an attractive Ducal voice as being more Benedict Cumberbatch, Hugh Laurie, or even Hugh Grant, rather than that of a Made in Chelsea pink-trousered toff. The unfortunate reality, however, likely sides with the latter.)

I did find his intonation a little melodramatic sometimes, which exacerbated the exaggerated style of the writing, but he was generally very good and it was a pleasing change to listen to a Regency narrated by a man, as they are few and far between. I would certainly listen to him narrating this genre again, though would like to see him increase his pace a little and not approach it quite as theatrically. That style would be perfect in a fantasy or an adventure, but can begin to make romance feel like a parody. He keeps just the right side of the line, however, and was very easy to listen to once I tweaked the playback speed the tiniest bit.

I would recommend this audiobook to anyone who is looking for a sweeping Christmas romance between a fallen Lady and a stricken Duke.

*I received this audiobook free of charge in the hope of an honest, unbiased review.
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