Any Duchess Will Do
Avon / May 28, 2013 / $5.99 print, $4.99 digital
What's a duke to do, when the girl who's perfectly wrong becomes the woman he can't live without?
Griffin York, the Duke of Halford, has no desire to wed this season—or any season—but his diabolical mother abducts him to “Spinster Cove” and insists he select a bride from the ladies in residence. Griff decides to teach her a lesson that will end the marriage debate forever. He chooses the serving girl.
Overworked and struggling, Pauline Simms doesn't dream about dukes. All she wants is to hang up her barmaid apron and open a bookshop. That dream becomes a possibility when an arrogant, sinfully attractive duke offers her a small fortune for a week's employment. Her duties are simple: submit to his mother's “duchess training”... and fail miserably.
But in London, Pauline isn't a miserable failure. She's a brave, quick-witted, beguiling failure—a woman who ignites Griff's desire and soothes the darkness in his soul. Keeping Pauline by his side won't be easy. Even if Society could accept a serving girl duchess—can a roguish duke convince a serving girl to trust him with her heart?
Romances based on fairy tales have enjoyed a new surge of popularity recently, but in her fourth Spindle Cove novel, Tessa Dare gives readers an anti-fairy tale romance in which hard work and self-respect are the route to happiness, and love is the only magic anyone needs. Pauline Simms is no passive Cinderella sitting amid the cinders waiting for a prince to rescue her. She is a “mud-spattered, sugar-dusted, smart-mouthed serving girl” wearing not rags but “drab linsey-woolsey.” Instead of a wicked stepmother and an absent father, Pauline has an apathetic mother and a brute of a father who is willing to sell her for less than five pounds. Instead of shallow, selfish stepsisters, Paulina has Daniela, a loving sister with special needs.
There is no prince in this story. Instead, there is Griffin Eliot York, eighth Duke of Halford, Marquess of Westmore, Earl of Ridingham, Viscount Newthorpe, and Lord Hartford-on-Trent. Griff is not a worthy heir to this impressive list of titles. He thinks that he “should have been a tradesman’s son. He feels more comfortable, more capable, when his hands [are] occupied.” He assures Pauline that “this isn’t a fairy tale, and anyone who knows me could tell you . . . I am no prince.” Cinderella’s prince searched for a beauty who was the only one whose foot would fit a rare slipper. Griff is less particular: any woman who can end his mother’s badgering for him to find a duchess will do.
Fortunately, Pauline has no interest in princes and, at least in the beginning, not much in arrogant dukes. She is pragmatic and pugnacious with a dream she shares with no one but which she is taking what steps she can to see fulfilled. She lets Griffin know that she “stopped believing in fairy tales long ago.” Instead of wishing, she is “prepared to work hard for the things [she] wants in life.”
Paulina does eventually receive an invitation to a ball, but the important invitation is the one Griffin extends to join him in London and “prove a comprehensive catastrophe” at his mother’s duchess training. His invitation is couched in terms that undercut the traditional fairy tale at every turn.
“Think of it as your chance to write a practical girl’s fairy tale. Come away to London in my fancy carriage. Have some fine new gowns. Don’t change a whit. Don’t fall in love with me. At the end of it, we part ways. And you live wealthily ever after.”
No fairy godmothers appear in this novel, but a strong-minded duchess described by her son as a “formidable blend of exterior polish and inner fire” plans to play the godmother’s transformative role—and without the assistance of supernatural powers. Disappointed but not defeated by Paulina’s table manners, accent, and lack of ladylike accomplishments, she offers this advice:
“Miss Simms . . . there is no magical combination of qualities that will make for a successful duchess. Beauty is useful, but not essential. Wit is desirable as well. Mind that I said wit, not cleverness. Cleverness is like rouge—liberal application makes a woman look common and desperate. Wit is knowing when to apply it.”
Added to the Cinderella oppositions, Dare throws in fleeting references to Hansel and Gretel, to Pinocchio, and to Beauty and the Beast in a wonderful scene in Griffin’s library where Paulina “enchants” Griffin by quoting from William Blake’s “The Crystal Cabinet.” Paulina concludes that Griffin needs kissing and rescuing. Despite this promising gender reversal, a happily ever after seems unattainable for this pair unless they discover “another England,” the tantalizing vision Blake offers in the poem Paulina quotes.
Dare remains true to her fairy tale inversion to the end. Paulina fulfills her dream for herself and Daniela through her own effort. Griffin admits that for the impossible to happen, he would need to change the world, something he cannot do. But he can change himself, and when he does that, with the help not of magical kisses but everyday ones, he becomes something much better than a prince. He becomes the best kind of hero’ he becomes “the best of men.”
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Janga spent decades teaching literature and writing to groups ranging from twelve-year-olds to college students. She is currently a freelance writer, who sometimes writes about romance fiction, and an aspiring writer of contemporary romance, who sometimes thinks of writing an American historical romance. She can be found at her blog Just Janga and tweeting obscure bits about writers as @Janga724.