England, 1879. Annabelle Archer, the brilliant but destitute daughter of a country vicar, has earned herself a place among the first cohort of female students at the renowned University of Oxford. In return for her scholarship, she must support the rising women’s suffrage movement. Her charge: recruit men of influence to champion their cause. Her target: Sebastian Devereux, the cold and calculating Duke of Montgomery who steers Britain’s politics at the Queen’s command. Her challenge: not to give in to the powerful attraction she can’t deny for the man who opposes everything she stands for.
Sebastian is appalled to find a suffragist squad has infiltrated his ducal home, but the real threat is his impossible feelings for green-eyed beauty Annabelle. He is looking for a wife of equal standing to secure the legacy he has worked so hard to rebuild, not an outspoken commoner who could never be his duchess. But he wouldn’t be the greatest strategist of the Kingdom if he couldn’t claim this alluring bluestocking without the promise of a ring…or could he?
Locked in a battle with rising passion and a will matching her own, Annabelle will learn just what it takes to topple a duke….
Annabelle Archer is a country girl who’s been burned and controlled by men in her past and present, so when she gets the chance to attend Oxford University and obtain an education, she jumps at the chance to escape from her oppressive cousin Gilbert’s direct control of her.
Sebastian – The Duke of Montgomery – is a cold and calculating aristocrat, and has previously been told he has no heart. When Annabelle ends up in the Duke’s company, will she break through the ice barrier everyone sees? Or perhaps Annabelle will uncover that exterior walls aren’t always what is actually on the inside.
Through the alternating perspectives of Annabelle and Sebastian, we get to see that the greatest angle of this love story is that the characters weren’t delirious on love at first sight, or obsessed with how attractive the other was. In fact, if anything, there was a little hostility between the pair similar to the romance of Mr Darcy and Elizabeth Bennet in Pride & Prejudice.
Sebastian and Annabelle’s relationship grows from a place that is about truly seeing and understanding someone as they are, which was a pleasure to read.
So, naturally, I really ended up rooting for Sebastian and Annabelle – like my heart would not have recovered any time soon if they did not get an acceptable HEA.
Although I’m not going to lie, I thought the book would be more steamy because that’s literally one of the most common things I read about this book. There was only 3, maybe 4 scenes that were smutty, with only 1 of them being in-depth. Sharing is caring; if you expect this to be like Fifty Shades erotic, it’s not quite.
Whilst initially feeling Annabelle’s individual arc was a little drab, by the middle and end, it was actually really emotional. Annabelle has had her life controlled and spoiled by men due to societal conventions of that era, and by the middle and ending, it became impossible not to feel those hardships seep out through the pages and into my heart. I was desperate to console her, wave a magic wand and fix her worries.
And because of the above, Bringing Down the Duke delivers an emotional insight into the nature of oppressed women in 1879 and in this general time period. Don’t get me wrong, it’s not a thorough insight, instead it is subtle. I must praise this, because the insight is only one component of the story – yet it was all consuming when it was centre point.
I loved Sebastian because underneath his exterior, there really was so much more going on. I loved his intelligence, his humour and his passion and devotion. His family’s history as a Dukedom, Sebastian being involved in advising the Queen and Parliament and Sebastian’s relationship with his younger brother, Peregrin, were all interesting subplots. I don’t even know how to express how much I loved Sebastian.
Even though class division and romance always ends up annoying me – which BDTD inevitably, despite only marginally, did – it didn’t detract from the story in any major way where I may have found it insufferable. I do loathe the whole “can’t be together because we’re from different worlds” like Mr Darcy and Elizabeth Bennet, because happiness is what matters most etc., but Dunmore’s way of illustrating this trope was more poignant than infuriating.
Also, I enjoyed the inclusion of philosophic commentary, from John Stuart Mill to Greek philosophers (as brief as some of it was). Especially when it was used as cleverly as it was to help progress the romance.
My only quibble with Bringing Down the Duke is it wasn’t until 25% into the read, I was finally fully engaged with the story. I spent the % before that a little confused to hype and impatient for the plot to actually get to that point of investment.
Bringing Down the Duke is a bright debut that unexpectedly ensnared me by capturing my heartstrings in more ways than one. The romance was beautifully crafted, and the historical setting was cleverly interwoven to bring the plot’s dramas and characters to life. I’m interested in seeing where Evie Dunmore takes the series next and any other novels she writes I’ll definitely check out.
Bringing Down the Duke by Evie Dunmore
Published September 2019
Genre: historical fiction, women’s fiction, romance