Historical romance has long been a genre I’ve skipped – I don’t know why but whenever I think of historical fiction I think of mass-market paperbacks with women in satin dresses and Fabio on the cover. There’s certainly a market for those books but I’ve never considered myself as that demographic. So when it came time to make my Book of the Month selection and I saw Bringing Down the Duke was one of the options, I decided to finally give historical romance a whirl. Sadly, it was in part due to the fact that it didn’t have a stereotypical historical romance cover (as shallow as that is). Judgements aside, Bringing Down the Duke turned out to be a phenomenal book and one of my new favorites.
England, 1879. Annabelle Archer, the brilliant but destitute daughter of a country vicar, has earned herself a place among the first cohort of female students at the renowned University of Oxford. In return for her scholarship, she must support the rising women’s suffrage movement. Her charge: recruit men of influence to champion their cause. Her target: Sebastian Devereux, the cold and calculating Duke of Montgomery who steers Britain’s politics at the Queen’s command. Her challenge: not to give in to the powerful attraction she can’t deny for the man who opposes everything she stands for.
Sebastian is appalled to find a suffragist squad has infiltrated his ducal home, but the real threat is his impossible feelings for green-eyed beauty Annabelle. He is looking for a wife of equal standing to secure the legacy he has worked so hard to rebuild, not an outspoken commoner who could never be his duchess. But he wouldn’t be the greatest strategist of the Kingdom if he couldn’t claim this alluring bluestocking without the promise of a ring…or could he?
Locked in a battle with rising passion and a will matching her own, Annabelle will learn just what it takes to topple a duke….
World building and an immersive environment are two of the most important things in a book. Bringing Down the Duke is a masterclass in world building – it’s realistic and completely consuming. By the time I was reading the second chapter I was totally immersed in 1800s London and what that time period felt like for these characters. Even more impressive is that the author effectively had to build two separate worlds: one of a lower class woman and one of a high power Duke. These are two wildly different settings and yet somehow she made them both equally complex and able to coincide with one another. This kind of immersion and world building in storytelling is what sets this book apart from the pack and really makes it a top notch novel.
A feminist, strong willed, and maybe a little too stubborn – all things that describe Annabelle Archer. She’s the epitome of an inspiring feminist romantic lead – she didn’t take no for an answer and was pushing the societal borders of her time. Annabelle is among the first class of women to attend Oxford, attending college on a scholarship provided by a women’s suffrage. One of the stipulations of her scholarship was that she had to help petition men with power to help turn over a women’s property act. This sends her literally hurtling into the path of Sebastian. Right off the bat they had amazing, sparks-in-the-air chemistry – which only grew and grew as they kept encountering each other. Even when they were fighting, their chemistry was off the charts and some of the best I’ve ever read.
Sebastian is one of my favorite leads ever – his growth was immense (and he had that whole dark and brooding thing down pat). A lot of his growth stemmed from him meeting Annabelle and slowly learning what she has been through and what she went through on a day to day basis. As he learned about the experiences of the lower classes (and specifically what women go through) he started to evolve. His journey through being a tortured can’t-break-societal-norms aloof attitude was a joy to see evolve into something more grounded and modern. This transformation felt organic and by the end of the book he had really proven himself and earned the right to end up with Annabelle.
I’ve been shouting it from the rooftops on my Twitter but let me say it here: Bringing Down the Duke is a fantastic book that I think anyone who is into romance should read. Heck, even if you’re not into romance, you should give this book a shot – especially if you’ve never dipped your toe into the historical romance genre. I’m already counting down the days until the sequel comes out and until then, I have the audiobook on hold at my library so I can experience it all over again. Evie Dunmore is definitely an author to watch and I can’t wait to read what she writes next. 5/5