Duchess If You Dare by Anabelle Bryant
I really like the premise of this series about the Maidens of Mayhem, four Regency-era women doing their best to right wrongs in London. In this first book, Scarlett Wynn is looking for a missing friend when she runs into the Duke of Aylesford… in a brothel, searching for the same woman on behalf of his brother, whose mistress the missing woman was. Soon the pair of them are running all over London together, from society balls to the dangerous streets of Seven Dials, falling in love along the way.
Human trafficking is a pretty tough subplot to build a romance around, to be honest, but Bryant does a fair job of it here and things hold together reasonably logically. The plot hole for me is exactly what Scarlett was doing before she got involved in the trafficking mystery, as we never really did get an answer as to exactly why she was running around the streets in trousers and with knives up her sleeve. Was she doing something in particular? We were never told, so it looked like she was basically out there looking for trouble to get into… which seemed reckless, and Scarlett wasn’t reckless. She stumbled into the trafficking case, and it seemed pointless; for me I’d have had a friend or relative of the missing woman approach the Maidens to ask for help, and for Scarlett to take the case. It sets up the rest entirely naturally without leaving the gaping plot hole of what was she doing in the first place.
There’s some intriguing social commentary here as the Duke realises his privileged position and eventually decides he has to take steps and use his influence to make a difference. I’d have liked to see his brother Martin get more involved, as Martin did seem to have a conscience, just needed a purpose. Ambrose didn’t seem to have any awareness that he had created the problem of Martin’s wasteful lifestyle by not giving his brother any meaningful role to play, and I’d have liked to see that resolved, but possibly Martin will get a role to play in a future book in the series.
The enormous social gulf between Scarlett and Ambrose was never really addressed - yes, there was a small amount of angst, but eventually they both decided that love conquers all and handwaved away the problem. Honestly, there were things that would have been obvious that weren’t mentioned - Scarlett’s speech would have marked her as someone who grew up in a Southwark tenement (has the author never seen My Fair Lady?) but it’s never mentioned, either that she doesn’t speak like one of the ton, or acknowledged by Scarlett herself that she has learned to mimic their speech in order to fit in.
I’m being a bit nit-picky here, because overall this is a really solid story and I liked the romance part of it, but there were several areas where it juuuuust missed the mark and which I found a bit disappointing. I will definitely be looking for more books in the series though because I very much like the premise. I’ll give this four stars.
Disclaimer: I received a review copy of this title via NetGalley.