A Duke, the Lady, and a Baby by Vanessa Riley
Sprung from the insane asylum where she had been locked up by her son’s unscrupulous new guardian, all widow Patience Jordan wants is to reclaim her baby and go home to Demerara. Before she can carry out her plan, though, she’s thwarted by the arrival of a senior claimant to the role of guardian, Busick, the Duke of Repington. Throwing her tormentor out of the house, Busick makes it clear the child’s welfare is his highest priority, and Patience is persuaded to wait and see how things turn out. Afraid to reveal her identity for fear he’ll send her back to Bedlam, she takes a position as her own child’s wet nurse.
The diverse representation in this book is as good as you’ll find in any historical romance. Not only is Patience a woman of colour (she self describes as ‘mulatto’ and it’s apparent from context that her father is white and her mother Black) but Busick is both disabled (an amputee) and suffering from PTSD due to his service in the Napoleonic Wars. The author does an excellent job of portraying what it would have been like for a young, albeit wealthy and beautiful, Black woman marrying into English high society; it’s obvious Patience is treated as an outsider and something of a curiosity.
That aside… I wanted to like this a lot more than I actually did. The story is told in alternating first person (Patience) and third person (Busick) points of view, which is probably my least favourite method of storytelling and can be intensely confusing. You don’t find a lot of first-person in historical romance so at first I thought it was going to be an interesting change; alternating first-person between the two main characters could have worked, but going to third-person for Busick really didn’t. There’s an intimacy to first-person, the character taking us into the story, sharing their innermost thoughts, but then when you change to third-person, it feels so much more like ‘telling’ rather than showing. I had a constant feeling of emotional whiplash changing between the two.
I’m not sure I really bought into the romance here either. Busick didn’t really know Patience when he decided she must love him and therefore he was going to be in love with her, which made absolutely no sense to me whatsoever. I could see good reasons for her falling for him - he listened to her, believed her and had her son’s best interests at heart - but despite being in her head a lot of the time, I don’t think the progress of her increasing feelings for him was conveyed at all.
I very much liked the premise of the story, and the research behind it was obviously good, but the execution just didn’t work for me. I’m giving it three stars.
Disclaimer: I received a review copy of this title via NetGalley.