The last woman on earth he would ever touch…
Declan, the Duke of Banbury, has no interest in ushering Rosalie Hughes, his stepsister, into society. Dumped on him with nowhere else to go, he’s determined to rid himself of the headstrong debutante by bestowing on her an obscenely large dowry, making her the most sought after heiress of the Season.
…is about to become the only one he wants.
But Rosalie isn’t about to go along with Declan’s plans. Surrounded by fortune hunters, how is she supposed to find a man who truly wants her? Taking control of her fate, Rosalie dons a disguise and sneaks into Sodom, a private club host to all manner of illicit activity – and frequented by her infuriatingly handsome stepbrother.
Rating: B- for narration; B for content
A Good Débutante’s Guide to Ruin is the first in a new series from Sophie Jordan, and if you can get past the rather daft idea of two innocent, well-bred young ladies sneaking out to a sex club, being provided with suitably skimpy clothing by the owner/madam, and not being recognized by the male relatives they encounter there, it’s an enjoyable story which boasts plenty of sizzling chemistry between the two leads.
Twenty-year-old Rosalie Hughes completed her education at a Yorkshire school two years earlier, but her mother has ignored all the polite reminders to come collect her daughter. Rosalie’s only other family is the step-brother she hasn’t seen for over a decade. Declan, now the Duke of Banbury, was fifteen when his father threw him out of the family home. He is not best pleased at finding a young woman he hardly knows on his doorstep, but he is at heart a gentleman and allows her to stay, calling on his aunt to move in and act as chaperone.
Rosalie is relieved at the fact he doesn’t turn her out, but rather bewildered by his coldness and thinly veiled hostility towards her. It’s clear that she worshipped him as a child and continues to carry a torch for him. But for Declan, Rosalie only dredges up painful memories of her mother Mélisande , who caused his rift with his father and whose lies and deceit have coloured his attitude towards women ever since. All he wants to do is get rid of Rosalie so he can return to his normal round of drinking, gaming and whoring.
Declan decides that the best way to be rid of Rosalie is to marry her off, so he lets it be known that he has settled a large dowry upon her. Rosalie isn’t against marriage, and, trying to set aside her childish fancy for Declan, knows the best she can hope for is to be able to find a kind and considerate husband. But before she settles, she wants to live a little, so when Declan’s cousin Aurelia suggests they slip out and pay a visit to Sodom, the notorious sex club frequented by the young men of the ton, Rosalie agrees. On the appointed night, skimpily gowned and heavily masked, the girls are escorted through the club by its mysterious lady owner, and get an eyeful of various amorous encounters (!). While Aurelia is quite happy to hang around and watch, Rosalie decides that what she’d like is to be kissed for the first time, and by someone who knows what he’s doing.
The identity of the selected orally experienced paragon will come as no surprise.
Rosalie is intelligent, kind, and unafraid to speak up for herself, without being stupidly feisty or independent to the point of being TSTL. Declan is a prize arse at the beginning of the book – cold, unpleasant, haughty and doggedly determined to persist in his dislike of Rosalie because of who her mother is. But in the weeks they spend under the same roof, he begins to remember what he used to love about the young woman he once nicknamed “Carrots” – and then, to his dismay, he begins to realize he’s starting to feel more than “like” for the young woman she is now. Declan can’t get the masked, lithe-limbed beauty he’d kissed at Sodom out of his mind, but his fascination with her does not quench his growing desire for Rosalie. But just as he learns to separate his animosity for Mélisande from his feelings towards her daughter, a massive spanner is thrown into the works: the woman herself reappears, out to get her hands on Rosalie’s dowry by fair means or foul.
I enjoyed the story, although there were points at which I had to suspend my credulity just a little bit too much. I also struggled to find an emotional connection between the pair that was matched their desire for each other. Rosalie has clearly been nursing a tendre for Declan for years, but he’s not given her a second thought – so his sudden, overwhelming lust for her comes as a bit of a surprise. Much more satisfying in terms of the storytelling is the way in which Ms Jordan hints at the reasons for Declan’s hatred of Mélisande, and then doesn’t delay the big reveal or allow those reasons to come between him and Rosalie.
Still, the chemistry between the couple is scorching. All credit to Carmen Rose for her portrayal of Declan in the love scenes: he’s a deliciously naughty, take-charge kind of guy, and she has a way of injecting an element of sternness into her delivery that expertly conveys his dominant personality which is quite sexy and very appropriate.
Her naturally low-pitched voice enables her to portray Declan convincingly by giving an added resonance and harder edge to her tone. She portrays Rosalie using an attractively husky timbre and a slight northern accent. Her performance of Mélisande is excellent – the woman is a self-centred bitch beneath a beautiful façade – and Ms Rose expertly captures the calculating menace beneath the veneer.
I generally enjoy Carmen Rose’s narrations, and this is no exception, although minor issues I’ve mentioned in other reviews (her tendency to breathe in odd places or to emphasise the wrong word in a phrase) are still present. There’s one glaring mispronunciation that occurs throughout: Rosalie’s school “Harwich” is pronounced “Harrich,” NOT “Har-Witch.” Still, the strength of Ms Rose’s characterisations and her differentiation are good enough that these become minor concerns which did not detract from my enjoyment overall.
Taken as a whole, A Good Débutante’s Guide to Ruin is an enjoyable audiobook. The story is entertaining, well-told and well-performed, and I will definitely be looking out for future instalments in the series.