Never Deny A Duke by Madeline Hunter
Davina McCullum has an excellent claim to a Scottish barony, and she even has powerful friends who have agreed to take up her cause with the king. All would seem to be clear for her to regain the property her family once lost.
Except that the current owner of the property is a certain duke who sees absolutely no reason why he should give it up. Despite the fact that he never goes there and in fact, considers it a site of traumatic and painful memories, he’d rather defy a king and leave a well-born and deserving young woman forced to work for a living rather than live in the home and comfort she is due.
Frankly, I thought Brentworth was a greedy, selfish brute far too accustomed to getting things his own way. I couldn’t help but imagine how he’d have dealt with Davina if she hadn’t been young, pretty and connected to people he respected, and it was an ugly picture. Smearing her name all over London would have been the least of what Brentworth would do to defend something he didn’t even want. Never for one moment did he consider offering her any sort of reasonable compensation as an alternative, and her concerns about the barony being subsumed into his ducal titles were raised once and then promptly dropped, never to be addressed again.
While I thought Brentworth was an entitled prig, Davina was delightful and deserved far better than she got. The book shone an uncomfortable spotlight on the huge disparity not only between the sexes, but also the haves and the have-nots of society, one which persists to this day, where money and power beget more money and power and everything is about who you know.
Despite the romance at the core of the story, I actually found the outcome ultimately quite depressing, with its core message that even if a woman does eventually get what she wants, there’s no way it’ll be on her terms. The fierce Scots spirit was dismissed as unworthy of notice, with the only politically active Scotsman in the story something of an antagonist and every character who appeared during the visit to Scotland bowing and scraping to Brentworth in a way I found completely un-Scottish. If you want books which feature fiercely independent Scots in the time period, you’d do much better to check out May McGoldrick, whose Scots characters display the proper disdain for the English you’ll still encounter in that country today.
The writing here is good, the plot all hangs together, and if you like very proper English dukes you might like this, but at the end of the day I disliked Brentworth intensely and found the outcome depressing. Two stars.
Disclaimer: I received a copy of this book for review via NetGalley.