I became aware of When You Wish Upon a Duke through reading Isabella Bradford/Susan Holloway Scotts’s extremely excellent blog, Two Nerdy History Girls, which she writes with Loretta Chase. Concentrating mostly on historical fashion and other traditionally feminine pursuits, their archives are a treasure trove of awesome.
I pre-ordered this book and it sat on my Kindle until this week, when I finally decided to read it. I sometimes get weirdly reluctant to read books I’ve purchased and this was one of them for some reason. As best I can figure, the reason for my reluctance was that this is set in a time period I’m not familiar with (1760 England) and I was concerned about the possible presence of powdered hair and wigs. I can say, with confidence, that while powdered hair and wigs are mentioned, neither the hero or heroine have them. Whew!
So the book itself!
Lady Charlotte Wylder has grown up in the country with her mother and two sisters, her father having died when she was quite young. When we meet her, she is daydreaming about her past until she is interrupted by one of her younger sisters who needs her help getting her cat out of a tree. Charlotte is, after all, a champion tree-climber (this is actually relevant to the plot and not just a marker of her hoydenish ways). While she’s in the tree, she sees a carriage arrive–it turns out it’s her betrothed’s solicitor–and she had no idea that she even had a betrothed!
Charlotte’s betrothed is James Augustus FitzCharles, the third Duke of Marchbourne. He is young and handsome and adorably awkward with women–since he’s been betrothed since childhood, he’s never really had to deal with women that he wasn’t paying to be with him. He has a bit of a stick up his butt, too, as his family descends from a king’s mistress and he puts quite a high priority on being properly dignified.
Which is part of why his initial interaction with Charlotte is so wonderful. She and her family are traveling to London to prepare for the official betrothal ceremony and wedding along with her Aunt Sophronia, a socially correct dragon of the fiercest sort. However, when March first sees Charlotte, she is in a tree. Rescuing her sister’s cat again. Thinking she needs to be rescued herself, he climbs up after her and they ultimately end up falling out of the tree and March is injured (but not seriously).
While he is recovering, Charlotte has it impressed upon her the necessity of being a proper duchess to the duke et cetera ad infinitum–this is one of the major themes of the book, the need for propriety. This is hard for Charlotte because she is young and irrepressible and is inexperienced in the society to which she belongs.
So things happen and the wedding gets moved up–not because of any compromise but because March wants to marry her sooner. And then there’s the wedding night in which they both have a good time until March realizes that he didn’t treat as one would treat a wife but as one would treat an actress or mistress. And his need for propriety rears its ugly head yet again and there is a lot of bad sex while Charlotte tries to figure out how to negotiate for what she wants within the strictures placed on her by her social standing and gender. It’s really lovely to see her awareness of the confines and her attempt to find someplace where she can have a happy marriage with a satisfying sex life.
Eventually, they do get there, but not without more bumps in the road in the form of an irritating and somewhat inept villain who was, I think, supposed to provide external conflict but I could see where his plotline was going a mile away as well as a bit of delving into March’s past and why he felt so strongly about propriety–turns out some bad stuff happened in his childhood that we would characterize as abuse if it happened now. I’m not sure if what happened to him was considered abusive at the time or not–however, it did traumatize him and nearly scuttled his chances of happiness with Charlotte.
Overall, I really enjoyed this book. There were a lot of little details integrated into the story that made it feel firmly rooted in its time and place but it never felt overwhelming and it didn’t detract from the story–sometimes it feels like authors need to share all their research in the books and it didn’t feel that way at all in this one. I really liked the way so much of the story was just Charlotte and March negotiating their new relationship and learning about each other. I was less pleased with the external conflict with a cardboard-like villain (although Charlotte’s denunciation of him whilst in a tree was fantastic) and with the weird time compression thing that happens at the end with her pregnancy. I was also not thrilled with the way March’s childhood wasn’t really discussed until the end of the book and that once what happened to him was out in the open that things almost magically became better between them.
The second book in the series, When the Duchess Said Yes, came out yesterday and I have it waiting for me–I’m hoping to get to it a lot faster than I did this one.