Never Say Duke by Erica Ridley
For the fourth Duke of Christmas, Erica Ridley gave to me… an autistic heroine.
Yep. An honest-to-goodness historical romance heroine who is very clearly on the spectrum, Virginia has trouble reading the emotions of other people unless they’re smiling or frowning. She hates crowds, loud noises, bright lights, anything sudden, and people who don’t say what they mean. She loves animals (especially Duke, her irascible and hilarious cat) and in her own way, she’s quite brilliant. It’s just that to most people, she appears extremely peculiar.
Of course, in the early 19th century, diagnosis for autism was a long way in the future, and what happened to Virginia was something which probably happened to all too many people, most especially powerless young women - her family put her in a lunatic asylum. Fortunate enough to escape and find her way to the tiny town of Christmas, she carved out a place for herself under the town’s benevolent guardian and vowed never to set foot in the society world which so utterly rejected her again.
Theodore is in Christmas to recover quietly from a serious injury he sustained on the battlefield, and Virginia takes him on much like one of her injured wildlife patients. The more time he spends with her, the better he comes to understand her. There’s a lovely line where he finally figures out why her cat is so irascible which is a perfect allegory for Virginia herself:
“The cat wasn’t the prickly, antisocial creature he had seemed. He had just been waiting to be treated like he mattered.”
Theodore is the first person in a long time to treat Virginia as though she matters, to be fascinated with her just as she is. He’s one of the nicest, most considerate heroes I’ve read in a long time, quickly coming to understand what she needs and careful of her special nature. This is a beautiful romance and probably my favourite of this genuinely charming series so far. Five stars.
Disclaimer: I received a copy of this book for review through NetGalley.