‘The Duke and I’ is the first novel in Julia Quinn’s popular ‘Bridgerton’ series, recently adapted into a hit Netflix show. It’s a surprisingly humorous and witty historical romance which – other than one notable scene – makes an enjoyable, quick read.
Daphne Bridgerton knows that the rest of her life depends on her securing an advantageous marriage match. However, while she has formed friendships with most of the eligible men in London, none of them see her as a desirable marriage prospect. Enter one Simon Basset, the newly-titled Duke of Hastings. The Duke has no intention of marrying – despite every mother in town seeking his hand for their daughter – and merely wants to go about his business in peace. The two hatch a cunning plan – they will pretend to form an attachment. A woman who has the attentions of a Duke will seem a highly desirable match indeed, and all the ambitious mothers will assume Simon has found his Duchess and leave him alone. However, the more time Daphne and Simon spend together, the more their ruse starts to feel real…
Daphne makes an excellent protagonist. She’s charming, witty, and unafraid to speak her mind or stand up for herself. She’s naive and immature, and prone to making unwise decisions, but her intentions are usually good. She can be a tad self-centred, but then she’s an aristocrat who’s likely always gotten her own way. Daphne isn’t necessarily the most unique character, and there’s a touch of ‘not like other girls’ about her, but she’s engaging and that’s all she needs to be.
Simon, on the other hand, is less of a paragon of masculinity than is sometimes seen in historical romance, which is refreshing. Yes, he’s a duke, and a devastatingly handsome one at that, but he’s also dealing with a number of issues – mostly centering around his terrible father – and struggles with a speech impediment. Like Daphne, Simon is clever and fond of a good quip, and their chemistry is remarkable. It’s clear right from the start that the two make an excellent match, and their relationship is highly believable.
The plot is relatively standard historical romance fare, but beyond one twist is still enjoyable and suits the characters and setting. Quinn is an excellent writer, especially of dialogue, and there are a few laugh-out-loud moments. Everything is kept mostly light-hearted, and it’s easy to read this in a single sitting. It makes the perfect read at the end of a long day when you want something simple.
The one issue this book has is a scene of female-on-male sexual assault. The male character has made it quite clear that he doesn’t consent to a particular act, yet – while he is intoxicated – the female character knowingly chooses to do it anyway. She acknowledges afterwards that it was wrong, but states she doesn’t regret it, and after a time is forgiven for her actions. This scene made me very uncomfortable, especially how it was later glossed over and – in some ways – made to seem like a positive thing in the long run. Female-on-male sexual assault is given a lot less attention than male-on-female, and works which minimise it will only cause further hurt to victims.
Overall, ‘The Duke and I’ is an enjoyable read packed with light humour – other than one scene which tars the story. It’s a shame that it was included (and an even bigger shame that it was translated in the same form into the TV show with no further commentary). My biggest hope is that a greater public lens will spark positive and progressive discussion around the issue of female-on-male sexual assault, rather than minimise it further. If you’ve watched the show, or are considering watching it, this is a recommended read – with the caveat that one scene may be distressing.
Published by Piatkus
Paperback: 5th January 2000