Review: Never Doubt a Duke

Never Doubt a Duke audiobook cover. A brunette woman in an elegant blue gown glances back over her shoulder, and behind her is a grand library. A teal silhouette of a cat in the top left corner marks this book out as the first in the Fortune's Brides series. Never Doubt a Duke by Regina Scott.
My rating: 5 of 5 stars ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐
Duration: 8 hrs 31 mins.
#BennetSistersScale: Lizzie - 🌹🌹🌹🌹🌹 Sweet and tender enough to be a Jane, but with far more chutzpah and spirited independence.

Never Doubt a Duke, Fortune's Brides, Book 1 by Regina Scott is a charming, witty Regency romance with a more worldly couple at its heart. Both the Duke of Wey and his new governess have lived long enough, and hard enough, to have very definite opinions about their place in the world, and their role in the lives of the others in the household. What neither of them expects is just how completely they will come to question everything they thought they knew; about themselves and each other.

Audible Summary: "After spending the last 10 years following her late husband on campaign, the irrepressible Jane Kimball finds herself badly in need of a position to support herself. Marriage holds no appeal; she’s not likely to find a husband like her Jimmy again. But when Miss Thorn of the Fortune Employment Agency offers her a post with the Duke of Wey, Jane feels drawn to help the lonely widower with his three daughters. He may seem a bit aloof, but Miss Thorn’s cat, Fortune, approved of him. Why should Jane doubt a duke?

Alaric, Duke of Wey, commands his staff, his tenants, and the halls of Parliament, managing vast holdings in England and across the seas. Why is it he cannot manage his own daughters? As an old danger rears its head, he comes to rely on Jane’s practical nature, her outspoken ways to navigate the waters of fatherhood. And when necessity dictates he take a wife, thoughts turn to an unlikely governess who might make the perfect bride.

This sweet, clean Regency romance is the first in the Fortune’s Brides series.

©2018 Regina Lundgren (P)2019 Regina Lundgren."

Having liked the sample and been intrigued by the premise, I expected to like this audiobook. Such high hopes are often to a book's detriment, but my faith in this one was not at all misplaced. It was vastly diverting, and its unconventional heroine was a refreshing change from the waif-like wallflowers who populate so many Regency romances.

Jane Kimball is no schoolroom chit, either, being a feisty widow who followed her Cavalry Officer husband across the globe on campaign. Though still fairly young, even by Regency standards, she is a strong, spirited woman whose wealth of experience is as ample as her figure. Alaric, the Duke of Wey, is a widower with three daughters, whose marriage of convenience to their mother was not a happy union, and whose duties to his tenants and Estate weigh heavily upon him. Jane's full-throttle approach to life and Alaric's measured, slightly-weary perspective could have clashed dreadfully, but instead they complement each other very well.

The ease of their connection is almost immediate, but their romance is more of a slow burn, cautioned in each case by their previous experiences of love, loss, and matrimony, and held back by duty. I liked the fact that they did not give themselves over to their affection with the cavalier intensity that a younger couple might, and that their friendship was cemented long before their attraction was addressed. Many Regencies concentrate on the all-consuming passion of first love, and it was very gratifying to listen to a romance between two people whose maturity and circumspection made their eventual love for each other feel very real.

The Duke's daughters, Larissa, Calantha, and Abelona are equally appealing in their different ways. Whilst Larissa is every bit the Lady she has been groomed to be, her sister Calantha has neither her elder sister's confidence nor her elegance, but possesses a great deal of charm and wit. The youngest of the siblings, Abelona, is ever-so sweet but also brave and determined. The Duke's mother is also a delight; as waspish and formidable a Dowager as one could ask for in a Regency, but with a warmth and kind nature that excuses her from becoming the villain of the piece.

As a governess, Jane's child-rearing style shares many of its main ingredients with other fictional nannies and babysitters; one part earnest Maria from The Sound of Music, a dash of candid, capable, Susan from Terry Pratchett's Discworld series, a pinch of the warm humour from Mrs Doubtfire, and a final dusting of Mary Poppins' forthright command. If this sounds like a rather tumultuous - and potentially ineffective - mix then you will understand Lady Larissa's dismay at having Mrs Kimball for a governess. It is also impossible not to note the occasional nod to the infamous Rochesters, especially in the Duke's yearning to call his governess by her given name; "Jane". Though in this case the wildest woman in the house is not sequestered in the attic, but put in charge of the school room.

To this end, a few of Jane's quips felt a little more brattish than wilful, especially when quipping "takes one to know one," with all the adolescent attitude of the most modern teenager. As a Vicar's daughter and a forces wife she would have learnt to be a little more controlled in her impertinence and not let it tip over into rudeness or delinquency. Jane alludes to this herself, when contemplating that her upbringing gave her a good grounding in how to behave in a proper manner. I think this is more noticeable because the language throughout the book is somewhat informal for the period. It does not adhere to the formality of Georgian grammar, but it is true to the spirit of it, and this looseness makes it much easier on the ear.

My only real complaint was that there were three or four occasions where it felt very much as though a comma should be accompanied (or replaced) by a concluding conjunction, such as for the last element in a list. For example: "He was kept apprised of every other area of his responsibility, by his steward, land agents, solicitor in London, the directors of the charities he supported, the prime minister." and "She thought for a moment the coachman would refuse, but then the mighty vehicle slowed, came to a stop.".

The narrator did well not to stumble over them but it gave those sentences an oddly unfinished air, especially as it happened several times. It is not a quirk I have ever noticed before, but the rest is polished enough that I can only assume it was a deliberate stylistic choice, and one which perhaps makes more sense within the text than it does when read aloud. One cannot hear punctuation with any exactitude, after all.

Overall the story was well written and I was content to spend hours at a time with Jane, Alaric, and their girls. There was just enough intrigue to keep it moving along, and it set up the next book in the series well without feeling unfinished. I was disappointed to discover that the rest of the series is not yet available in audio, but I am hopeful that they will soon follow. I will certainly be keeping my eye on Audible for more from Regina Scott and Fortune's Employment Agency.

The narrator, Jannie Meisberger, had a lovely tone to her voice. Her performance was lively with good voices for the characters, even the children, who can be difficult to portray without falling into cutesy parody. The girls' voices are distinct, and at no point did they become muddled in my mind, which is quite an achievement when dealing with three young women aged between five and ten.

I did speed the narration up to 1.10x, because I found that a more pleasing pace at which to listen, but that is not a criticism as playback preferences vary from person to person. I always aim to listen at standard speed (1x), and only tweak it a little if I really feel a need to, but I'm sure that others would very much enjoy Meisberger's relaxed, unhurried style. Her voice reminded me a little of Anna Massey, or an older Anna Bentinck; very clear and traditional in her narrative style. I hope that she narrates the rest of the series.

Never Doubt a Duke happened to be the 100th book that I finished listening to this year, and though it is somewhat arbitrary, I am glad that the honour went to an audiobook which I enjoyed so much. Overall I would give it 4.5 stars out of 5, but I am rounding up as it was such good fun, a refreshing change of focus, and I know I'll listen to it again. It was the perfect choice for the start of this silly-season, as the world busies and bustles in preparation for Christmas. I'm only sorry not to have the next book in the series to curl up with on Boxing Day!

I would recommend this audiobook to anyone who enjoys the 'bluestocking' trope in Regency romance, and those who would like to read about a slightly more experienced couple. Listeners who enjoyed Jodi Taylor's A Bachelor Establishment, in particular, would like this one too.

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

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