The Duke Who Didn't by Courtney Milan
It would be an easy trap to fall into, when writing about people of colour in Victorian England, to focus on the struggles they must have faced. Courtney Milan doesn’t shy away from noting that neither Jeremy - the half-Chinese Duke of Lansing - and Chloe Fong, his full-Chinese heroine - live free of racist persecution, but they do have an escape from it in Wedgeford, the village of amazing diversity Jeremy’s father accidentally created by being a neglectful landlord (he literally forgot to collect rents).
There’s an absolutely amazing subversion of the Big Secret trope in this book. Jeremy has been hiding his true identity from the people of Wedgeford for years, so long he doesn’t have the first idea how to come clean about it - but if he wants any chance at a future with Chloe, who he’s always been desperately in love with, he has to. And so often when a Big Secret is set up in a romance, it leads to a Black Moment, but here… well, I won’t spoil it for you, but what happened was not only realistic but actually hilarious, too. I laughed so many times during this book; Jeremy is such a sunshine character, able to laugh at himself and bringing out Chloe’s lighter side, too.
The only thing that really threw me was the sauce Chloe’s father was working on perfecting. As an ‘Unnamed Brown English Sauce’ for much of the book, the only two sauces I could think of were Worcestershire (which has an anchovy base, which this one doesn’t) or HP Brown sauce… which I can’t imagine would taste good with pork bao, so my taste buds were tingling in utter confusion much of the time!
In Wedgeford, Milan has created a fascinating and diverse small community with some gorgeously English quirks; I’m definitely looking forward to seeing where she takes the rest of this series. Five stars.