Very funny - love the zingers at LARPers
Reviewed in the United States on 19 July 2014
I have not read all of Tessa Dare’s work, but what I’ve read – with one exception – I’ve enjoyed very much. My favorite is A Week to be Wicked, but Romancing the Duke: Castles Ever After is not far behind. It may even take the place as my second favorite, moving Any Duchess Will Do to third place.
Romancing the Duke: Castles Ever After is the tale of Miss Izzy Goodnight, daughter of the most-beloved author of that generation, the teller of a chapter-book like fantasy series (think the fame of J.K. Rowlings or George R. R. Martin) that all begin with “Put out the light, my darling Izzy, and I shall tell you such a tale.” Upon the sudden death of her father, Izzy finds herself destitute and homeless, at the mercy of those who love her father’s books. Through an unexpected quirk of fate, Izzy is gifted with a dilapidated, run-down castle that has a blind duke a residence, who insists that the castle is part of his birthright. Ransom, the duke, wants Izzy gone, but she refuses to leave, recognizing that “possession is 9/10s of the law” and that she is in a unique position as a woman in possession of a castle in the early 1800s. She offers Ransom a deal – she’ll act as his secretary and help him sort out how his castle ended up his position; he’ll pay her and she’ll restore the castle.
Of course, this is a romance novel and romance ensues. But the romance is not really the greatest draw of Dare’s work – one knows when one picks up one of these books that the hero and heroine will end up together – the draw is the story that gets them there, and Dare tells this one masterfully.
Izzy is a well-developed character. Like most of Dare’s heroine’s, she somewhat plain and slightly odd, but her confidence shines through and draws people to her. Dare knows how to portray the concept that it’s not beauty that men are attracted to, but confidence and strength of character. Izzy is also a very real woman with real emotions and feelings; at the age of 26 (quite old for an unmarried woman of that time period), she is not afraid to admit that she’s attracted to men (Ransom in particular) and to demand what she wants from them. At their end of their first kiss, where Ransom tries to scare her off with savagery, she smacks him and tells him to do it again and do it right – she wants a “real” first kiss, and she’s willing to ask for it. That’s strength of character.
Ransom, for his part, is pretty typical of Dare’s heroes – tall, dashing, and handsome. He’s a reformed rake, but unlike what is typical of this genre, he wasn’t reformed by a woman, but by a serious accident that left him scarred and blind (though clearly not so scarred as to mar his attractiveness). Dare paints a rather unappealing image of what it must have been like to be blind in the early 1800s; she reminds her audience that until fairly recently, blind people were considered mentally retarded and were often locked up in asylums. Ransom has to act as if he is not blind, which means orchestrating his surroundings so that he never makes an error.
Although the primary story revolves around Izzy and Ransom, there is a cast of supporting characters who are quite Shakespearean in their comedic value. Dare knows how to craft quirkiness. But, what I loved most about this story was Dare’s portrayal of the “Moranglians” – the followers of Izzy’s father’s tale. If you’ve been to a Comic-Con or Renaissance Faire, you know the type of followers I’m talking about: the ones who want to live the story, the Live Action Role Players. These people dress in costume and follow Izzy about as much as possible, supporting her, but also supporting their own fantasies as they do so. Dare’s portrayal of these characters makes the novel really come to life; the humor with these characters makes the novel enjoyable enough to overlook any flaws (like the too rapid ending)!