Tuesday, October 7, 2008

The Truthiness of the Matter

The Lost Duke of Wyndham
By Julia Quinn

Historical Romance

"I would never claim that men and women are interchangeable...but in matters of truthiness, neither sex earns high marks."
She looked at him in surprise. "I don't think truthiness is a word. In fact, I'm quite certain it is not."
"No?"...his eyes postively twinkled as he said, "Well, it should be."

I make no secret of the fact that I am a big fan of Julia Quinn. Before I went on my recent paranormal binge I had worked my way through the entire Bridgerton family, as well as The Secret Diaries of Miss Miranda Cheever. But after my recent dances with werewolves, I was afraid returning to the drawing room might be a bit too tame. In spite of my initial trepidation, I decided to spend this past rainy weekend with The Lost Duke of Wyndham.

I was not disappointed. Quinn delivers the strong characterization and subtle humor that I have come to expect in her books. In addition, she manages to insert the Colbertian “truthiness” in such a way that it seems quite natural. As far as I am concerned, she combines the best elements of traditional historical romance and drawing room comedy. In The Lost Duke, Quinn takes the “missing heir suddenly returned” storyline and gives it a little bit of twist. Our hero, Jack Audley, was orphaned at birth and raised by his aunt and uncle. After a relatively happy childhood, he goes off to school, which he gets through by the skin of his teeth with the help of his cousin Arthur, goes to University, where he is expelled almost immediately for his bad (though entertaining) behavior, and then joins the military and fights the French for several years. By the time we meet Jack, he has become the Robin Hood of highwaymen, robbing the rich to give to injured soldiers and military widows and orphans. In short, he is the quintessential bad boy with a heart of gold.

Meanwhile, back in Lincolnshire, Miss Grace Eversleigh is also orphaned, but at the age of seventeen. Left penniless, she narrowly escapes being married off to her odious cousin, saved only by the intervention of Augusta Cavendish, the Dowager Duchess of Wyndham, who hires Grace to be her companion. In the best tradition of dowager duchesses everywhere, Augusta is an autocratic, demanding dragon. However, Quinn does imbue her with some degree of humanity. We learn that she has outlived her husband and all of her children, and has at best a strained relationship with her only grandson, the current Duke. In fact, it is the death of her second and favorite son that drives the story. When Jack stops the Wyndham carriage late one night with the intention of robbing it, the Dowager sees in him the image of her dead son. Jack sees a sad and angry old woman with a very beautiful and compelling companion. Curiosity and his fascination with Grace lead him to investigate the Wyndham estate, where he spots Grace and is spotted in return. This little gambit leads to the Dowager deciding to kidnap (!) him in order to better explain his rights and duties as the rightful Duke. This does not sit entirely well with Thomas, the current Duke, who will be displaced if his father’s older brother’s only son is proven to be legitimate. Though the Dowager’s faith in her instincts is unshakeable, she acknowledges that there are those for whom a gut feeling is not enough and who will insist on facts of the sort found in books. Specifically, found in the parish register in Ireland at the church where Jack’s parents were married. And so, the Dowager, the current Duke, the lost Duke, the Dowager’s companion Grace, the current Duke’s betrothed, Amelia, and Amelia’s father all set off to Ireland to find the truth of the matter.

This is an enjoyable romance with a likeable heroine, a suitably flawed and attractive hero, and a nice supporting cast. There are no stock characters – everyone has a secret of some kind and a major stake in the outcome. All is not as it seems among the Wyndham clan, and there is no true good or bad but many shades of gray. The love story between Jack and Grace is wrapped up nicely, but there are a few loose ends with other characters. These will apparently be addressed in the sequel, Mr. Cavendish, I Presume, released this month. Overall, I enjoyed this book and plan to read the next, and would recommend Julia Quinn for any fan of Regency or historical romances.

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