Nathaniel Gresham, the handsome Viscount Hargove, lives a life devoted to familial duty. As his father’s eldest son, Nathaniel’s identity remains the “heir to the Duke of Langford.” But this quiet, restrained life changes the minute he marries sweet Lady Violet Devere.
Oppressed by her family all her life, Violet is longing for her marriage vows to be spoken. Though her arranged marriage to Nathaniel was not a match made for love, they’re both looking forward to the comparative freedom of married life. And Violet is determined to show Nathaniel how to enjoy it, both in and out of the bedroom.
The blurb for Heir to the Duke sounded promising; the story of a young couple entering on an arranged marriage and adjusting to a life together, he needing to liven up a bit, and his new wife being just the young woman to help him to do it. But when I read an historical romance, I do expect it to contain some actual, you know, ROMANCE – and I don’t see how this book can really be classed as one when the central couple spends so little time together and there is not much (if any) relationship development.
In fact, the story is much more about the heroine’s trying to get out from under her tyrannical grandmother’s influence and live her own life than it is about her making a life with her new husband. And by that token the title of the book is very misleading, as it’s not about the Heir to the Duke at all, but mostly about his duchess-in-waiting and her horrible family.
Nathaniel Gresham is young, handsome and, as the book’s title states, the heir to a dukedom. He is the eldest of six sons, and all his life, his younger brothers have looked to him as their principal problem solver and get-out-of-scrapes-free card; and while he sometimes finds it a bit of a chore to be always sorting them out, he nonetheless rather likes being the one to whom they can turn in a crisis.
Lady Violet Devere is the daughter of an earl, and thus an excellent match for Nathaniel, not just because of her lineage, but because she is quiet, demure and dutiful. Theirs is not a love match, but both look forward to their marriage; Violet is pretty and graceful, despite the horrible clothes her grandmother forces her to wear, and Nathaniel is not insensible of his luck in finding a suitable bride he finds attractive. And Violet can’t wait to get married, either. She likes Nathan, and has no reason to believe they won’t be happy together, but mostly, she is looking forward to the freedom she will gain by being married and out from under her grandmother’s portentous shadow.
Violet decides to start as she means to go on, giving her new husband a nice surprise on their wedding night by proving herself ready to be an adventurous lover. Shortly after that, she persuades him to take her to Brighton for a few weeks, where she sets about making herself anew, firing her lady’s maid (having discovered her to be her grandmother’s spy), throwing out all her old, unflattering dresses, buying a whole new wardrobe and generally setting about throwing off the yoke of oppression under which she had lived for so many years. She does all this with Nathaniel’s full support, and very quickly starts to cut a dash in Brighton society, even attracting the notice of the Regent himself. Nathaniel is a little confused to discover that Violet isn’t the staid, demure young lady he thought he was marrying, but isn’t complaining, given her newly revealed loveliness and that she is enjoying their sex life as much as he is.
While Violet is throwing herself headlong into gaiety, Nathaniel doesn’t appear to do very much other than to read and answer an interminable number of letters from his brothers, all asking him ridiculous questions or to do something for them that they could easily do for themselves. I think this is supposed to show the reader how responsible Nathaniel is, how dependent they are on him and how he has let them become so by practically wiping their noses and arses for them all the time, but it just makes him look spineless.
Something Nathaniel says almost in passing suddenly makes Violet start to question exactly why her grandmother was so unpleasant and overbearing towards her, so she sets about cornering her mother to find out the truth. When she does, she almost wishes she hadn’t, as this is a secret which could jepoardise her fledgling marriage. Then, when Nathaniel takes to heart a comment Violet made about his needing to learn how to have fun, the couple find themselves spending even more time apart, misunderstandings start to arise and the whole story becomes so frustrating that had I not been reading for review, I would have been tempted to abandon it.
While at the outset, I was cheering Violet on for her determination to live her own life once she was married, she very quickly started to seem flighty, immature, and too naively stupid to see the sort of traps she was falling into. The hero is sweet, but a bit of a stick-in-the-mud, and his best moments are each time he stands up to the dreadful dowager. There are stupidly frustrating misunderstandings and melodramatic threats from the tyrannical granny, but ultimately, Heir to the Duke is nothing short of very boring. There are much better ways to spend your money and your time than this, so do yourself a favour and give it a miss.