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All art is unstable. It's meaning is not necessarily that implied by the author, There is no authorative active voice. There are only multiple readings. David Bowie, 1995

Tuesday, May 6, 2014

...a very likeable mad duke!

To Charm a Naughty Countess (Matchmaker Trilogy #2) by Theresa Romain

The Mad Duke,  Michael John Wythe Layward, Duke of Wyverne, Marquess of  Vaughan, Earl of Beaumont, Baron Lunley, and responsible for the well-being of thousands, was in need of a wealthy bride. His finances are in disarray and the weight of his responsibilities match the weight of his titles. 
The problem is that Wyverne has a reputation as being crazy. How to catch a wealthy bride with that millstone around his social neck? Wyverne has few social graces and is better suited to digging canals in the depths of Lancashire than carrying on polite conversation.
Hence his attempts in social interaction ended in failure. Witness the taking apart of his hosts Carcel Lamp instead of paying suit to the available heiress.
Wyverne is addicted to scientific inventions, from lanterns to canals and railways, all of it. He likes to understand how things work, how to mend things, how scientific discoveries might be made to benefit the population. This does lead to some startling behaviours in London drawing rooms that only serve to solidify his reputation.    
Unfortunately, Wyverne has an anxiety disorder that sees him freeze in these social situations, or do something entirely de rigour. Caroline Graves, formerly Caroline Ward, now the widowed Duchess of Stratton, decides to assist him. She tutors him using scientific observational cues as to how to go on, how to open and continue a conversation. In short how to be accepted by members of the ton. This is frequently amusing to witness.
Caroline, now a wealthy widow, is Michael's nemesis  of 12 years ago. Despite or because of this she decides to come to his aid.
Sadly as the story progresses we find that Caroline is courted by many and needed by none. 
At first I found the story from the viewpoint of this gay widow who fills her life with admirers and intermittent lovers somewhat unexpected. Where I wondered is the feisty, yet innocent  young heroine I'm so used to in Regency romances? At the beginning Caroline seemed shallow, brittle even. As I began to understand why Caroline chose this life, how she had come to this moment, my sympathy for her was aroused.
Caroline wants to be needed. Michael needed her. Caroline is determined to aid the Mad Duke, the same man who broke her heart so long ago. As the story continues we learn that Michael too has never stopped thinking about Caroline.
Caroline was not going to give up her independence but she would find Michael a wife.
The heiresses are trotted out, and of course either were in turn bemused by Wyverne, disappointed by him, or wanting to reform the economic aspects of his holdings. The last heiress certainly was more an economic rationalist, with her eye on how to turn his holdings into a financial success.
An additional layer to the story is how author Romain used the impact of weather conditions across the land in1816 upon the agricultural production of the time, (the year without a summer), weaving that into the cause for the plummeting fortunes of the Duke's Lancashire holdings. (See the excellent end notes) The Duke had overextended himself in his plans to recoup his finances and the sudden climate change has led to him having to look elsewhere for funds--the main elsewhere being to marry an heiress.
A different read with the interesting premise of a love lost in time being given a second chance.

 A NetGalley ARC

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