Sometimes I think romance novels peaked with Austen and Bronte. The After series, a beloved romance series, references Pride and Prejudice almost religiously and Wuthering Heights acts as the model for the main relationship. Other modern romances often harken back to the Elizabeth Bennet and Mr. Darcy scenario. A man aching for a woman but utterly incapable of showing it; a strong-willed woman who mistakes his lack of game for pompous superiority. The story is one we’ve come to know well as a society, and yet it’s one that, when executed well, never disappoints.
I tend to shy away from “romances” even though I love a love story (cheesy or not, I don’t discriminate). I suppose a judge a book by its genre in that way. I’m not someone who is pulled toward the modern romance on purely superficial grounds. I gravitate toward more “complex” reads… wow, that sounded just as pompous as Darcy. Anyway, all of this to say, I think I need to check myself. A few bookstagrammers were raving about Bringing Down the Duke by Evie Dunmore right when the September book picks were released for Book of the Month. I thought I had my pick ready to go but added this to my box last minute. I am so glad I did!
The story follows Annabelle Archer, a young woman who is accepted into Oxford when the university began taking female students, and her journey as a suffragist in Victorian England. Enter the Duke of Montgomery, arguably the most powerful man in England, who Annabelle decides to try to sway in support of her cause. Their connection is electric, and you can feel the tension building steadily with each encounter. Annabelle is strong, intelligent, and refuses to allow her sex or her station to dictate her future. She resembles the strong female leads that Austen made us love, but she feels modern in a way that makes her relatable to women who have had the right to vote their whole lives (even if they weren’t of age yet). The Duke of Montgomery is infuriating, to put it mildly. He’s arrogant at times and such a … man. It’s rather frustrating until the moments in which he recognizes that Annabelle is so smart and sharp. Their chemistry reminded me a bit of Elizabeth and Darcy, but at the end of Pride and Prejudice when they are finally unmasked in their feelings.
Frankly, once the sparks officially flew (a euphemism), I was hooked and couldn’t put the book down. I read until my eyes burned and I was forced to go to sleep. Then I sat at my work desk all day thinking about the last 80 pages that so patiently waited for me in my work bag.