The Secret Duke, by Jo Beverley

I thought I'd throw up (blargh! just joking) a little review of The Secret Duke, by Jo Beverley, before I forget what I think!

This book is part of the Malloren world, set in the Georgian period (mid-1700s, Malloren-wise). (Here's a full booklist at JoBev.com, and you can read an excerpt at her site as well.) I'm so used to Regencies that it's quite a treat to delve into a different era from time to time, and I love Jo Beverley, and I love the Mallorens.

So! To go a completely different direction, I'll discuss what I didn't so much like about this novel in particular.

But, first, I guess I should give a little intro and tell you what I did like. That's only fair, right?

Ok, the titular secret duke is the Duke of Ithorne, or Thorn, who likes to disguise himself occasionally and switch places with his illegitimate brother as Captain Rose and go on sailing adventures. The heroine is Bella Barstowe, who has escaped, due to a small inheritance, from under her pious brother's thumb after an unfortunate escapade (partially told in the prologue) that ruins her reputation. The characters were likable, and I enjoyed finding out what happens with Thorn. There was even a continuation of the Manx cat tale.


This book contains the denouement of Lady Fowler, and I was a little disappointed (illogically) that there wasn't more to Lady Fowler than previously implied. She is in fact an ill-tempered, prudish woman. I thought maybe there'd be some sort of sly twist, and she'd turn out to be a cunning heiress who just liked messing with people by sending out gossip sheets disguised as calls for societal reform. But, no, she's just as she appears to be. This isn't Jo Beverley's fault, you understand. I'm apparently hard to please. Bella goes to work with Lady Fowler, believing her to be a true hope of reforming society and helping women escape from cruel men's dominance, before she discovers that Lady Fowler is in fact in the end stages of syphilis, losing all reason, and susceptible to the planting of treasonous seeds by newcomers.

The novel seemed a little oddly paced to me. Bella hates her priggish brother, Sir Augustus, and then finds out something scandalous about him that makes her plot to ruin him, with Captain Rose's help. There is a looong setup with this foul-Augustus angle, followed by a somewhat uncomfortable ending to that particular thread. But then there was still half the novel left to finish. The novel in general felt like several different stories pushed together: Bella on her initial escapade, Bella confined to her brother's house, Bella working with Lady Fowler, Bella's adventure with Captain Rose against Sir Augustus, etc.

The story demanded a lot of leaps of credulity in terms of the believability of disguises. Bella alters her beautiful appearance when she goes to work for Lady Fowler by applying a sallow base of makeup and donning spectacles (and moles or warts, I believe?). Bella also poses as Thorn's plain-ish wife, and as a nymph at a ball. But she's a gently bred young woman, not a cosmetics expert or super-spy. Thorn plays Captain Rose, even though the real Captain Rose actually exists and has to interact with the same people Thorn does in some instances. They're only half-brothers, too, not fully identical twins or anything. I kept thinking someone (besides Bella, in one scene where she meets the true captain) would notice something amiss in Thorn's portrayal, particularly the people who work with the captain on his ship.

As I scan the Amazon reviews, I see I'm not alone in my quibbles, even among fellow Beverley diehards.

Now, even with my issues with this book, I was still captivated by the story and love Beverley's writing and characters. I guess even with a great writer, not every book can be the best book.

So there you are! If you're a Malloren completist, you'll want to read this to hear Thorn's story and meet the enchanting Bella. If you're just being introduced to Jo Beverley, I'd pick a different book for your first meeting.


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