The weirdest stuff I read, by far, is what comes from the Book of the Month Club. Well, the weirdest stuff for me. I have found some utterly bizarre and insane books that are still science fiction, fantasy, or speculative fiction and that is all very much my wheelhouse. So it’s weird for me to read other things. Like…a historical romance.
You may recall that I was offered a coupon for my birthday, a free add-on book to my box this month. Which, of course, necessitated actually picking a book this month. I wasn’t incredibly impressed with any of the five choices, but eventually settled on Evie Dunmore’s Bringing Down the Duke. I don’t completely abhor romance, though I don’t seek it out or read it outside of subplots in other books. But I’ve enjoyed reading books set in the Victorian era before, and I can get behind a female protagonist attending Oxford. Sure, I know exactly what to expect from a book like this because it’s categorized as romance, but I figured that if the rest sounded interesting I could well like it.
At the very least it would be completely different from what I read yesterday and hopefully help me steer myself back into reading more normal books.
Our protagonist is Annabelle Archer. At twenty-five she’s still unmarried and living with her cousin as an unpaid drudge. Hearing that Oxford would begin to accept female students, a fire that she’d thought utterly quenched reignites and Annabelle convinces her cousin to let her attend. Her tuition is covered by the suffragist movement, so in addition to her schoolwork Annabelle is obligated to help spread the word about getting the vote for women.
On her very first day, they are to hand out pamphlets to powerful men coming from Parliament. And Annabelle inadvertently picks out one of the most powerful; the Duke of Montgomery. This being a romance, you can clearly see where all of this is going. I don’t feel the need to detail the plot further.
What can I say? It’s an easy read, a predictable book, and your typical mushy happy ending. I appreciate that throughout the entire book there are only two sex scenes – Dunmore spends most of her time building up the tension and connection between our romantic leads instead of the actual sexual acts. To be fair, that first sex scene goes on quite a while, but it also includes a fair bit of conversation and some of the most intimate backstory revelations.
And while I am glad to not have to suffer through too many sex scenes, or to have them be horribly gratuitous, I can fully appreciate that the entire point of a romance is to get the two characters together. I mean, that’s the plot of the story. It’s not a romantic subplot that’s taking valuable time away from the main plot and the two characters acknowledging their love for each other and acting on their feelings is the climax of the book. I personally may be aromantic, but I have nothing against relationships that are fulfilling and supportive to those involved. And if I’m reading a romance novel then I’m not going to knock the book for focusing on the attraction between the two because that is the point of the whole thing.
Do I think it was a bit cliché to bring in a Roman philosopher theorizing that each person has a soulmate? Yes. But what’re you going to do? It’s a romance novel and the bar just isn’t set that high. For me, I appreciate that the book was well-written, that the characters’ choices felt logical given what I knew about them, and while I might roll my eyes at how predictable most of it was, I was still cheering for the leads to get together and accept that the author made them perfect for each other. Well, no human is perfect, but their strengths clearly work well together. Weaknesses…I don’t know that Dunmore really gave that many weaknesses. The duke’s greatest strength is also his greatest weakness, which works very nicely. Annabelle though is mostly hindered by her past and low birth, which isn’t actually a character weakness.
So I guess that’s the biggest problem with the book, that the main character doesn’t have a lot of flaws. I feel like I’m really being nitpicky to even bring it up, like I can’t just let myself enjoy a romance novel and I have to find something wrong with it? Well, maybe a little. I don’t know, it’s not the best book I’ve read, but it’s far from the worst. I definitely enjoyed reading it and knew there was no way I wasn’t going to finish it tonight, regardless of length. I still don’t see myself browsing any romance section of any bookstore, but as with The Sun is Also a Star by Nicola Yoon, I can see myself choosing a romance from the Book of the Month Club again in the future, if that’s my best bet.
Would I have picked up Bringing Down the Duke if I didn’t need it to get The Girl the Sea Gave Back? Probably not. Then again, I probably wouldn’t have gotten the latter if not for the fact that it was completely free. Still, I keep the subscription because it does encourage me to read outside my normal genres and this is ample proof of why I should continue to maintain my membership. I can definitely see myself returning to this book the same way I revisit books in Mercedes Lackey’s Five Hundred Kingdoms series (and those are pretty definitely romances with fantasy elements). So, score another point for Book of the Month.