When You Wish Upon a Duke
by Isabella Bradford
(Ballantine, $7.99, PG-13) ISBN 978-0345527295
For readers willing to suspend belief, When You Wish Upon a Duke offers a rather unusual hero and a romance that ultimately satisfies, though the journey is overlong. Lady Charlotte Wilder has lived in the Dorsetshire countryside for most of her life, under the care of her widowed mother. The household is thrown into turmoil by the arrival one night of the solicitor for the Duke of Marchbourne. Charlotte greets the man at the door in a fisherman’s sweater with her bare legs hanging out; rather than acting shocked and asking to speak with her mother, the man informs her that she will wed the Duke and hands her a portrait. Her mother quickly arrives and informs Charlotte that yes, the marriage was arranged when Charlotte was a child. They will travel to London at once.

This might work in a more modern setting, but the year is 1760, and the idea of Charlotte answering the door herself, half-naked, and speaking directly to the Duke’s solicitor without anyone else present is patently ridiculous. So is the solicitor speaking to her without a chaperone, and her mother dropping a marital bombshell in the front hall with others present. Charlotte is meant to be portrayed as a carefree tomboy, but readers are going to need to overlook a lot of contrivances in order to immerse themselves in the story.

March, as he is known, is an oh-so-proper young man who adheres to a strict moral code. He inherited the title at an early age, so he has had sometime to think about what kind of duke he’d like to be. His father was a rake of the first order; his great-grandfather was a king (most likely King Charles II, though it’s not spelled out) and his great-grandmother was an actress and the King’s mistress. March reasons that the only way to overcome the stain of illegitimacy on the family pedigree is with impeccably correct behavior, and a bride who is as properly-behaved as he. The Wylders aren’t as wealthy, but their lineage is above reproach. Charlotte will make a perfect wife.

March decides to ride out and meet his bride enroute to London. When he finds her, she’s up a tree, rescuing a cat. (Charlotte climbs several trees in this book.) Charlotte and March fall “in love” instantly; she’s besotted by his handsome face, and he is bowled over by her beauty. It looks like a love match. March is enthusiastic enough to move the wedding date up, so he can have his bride to himself as soon as possible.

But after an unexpectedly passionate wedding night, March retreats into his “proper” persona, certain that no respectable married couple would actually enjoy marital relations. Charlotte, after consulting with her aunt, is advised to lie still and endure. The rest of the story revolves around Charlotte’s efforts to get her Duke to relax and lighten up, in hopes that the wedding night fireworks wasn’t a once-in-a-lifetime event.

Charlotte is little more than a breathless teenager who finds herself married to her first crush, and there isn’t much depth to her. She’s immature and naïve, and it was astounding that her antics weren’t the cause of a scandal amongst the ton. Instead, she is instantly accepted into Society. Charlotte exhibits some growth over the course of the story, as she sets her mind to re-crafting her marriage into one that is satisfying. She was most interesting when she was plotting how to seduce March, rather than climbing trees and acting like a hoyden.

March could have come across as incredibly irritating, but he’s portrayed as a man who has immersed himself in his own rigid moral code for so long that it will take dynamite to blast him free. Make that several sticks of dynamite. The wedding night, in its unexpected sizzling pleasure, leaves him shaken and unsure, so he retreats into his comfortable façade of Proper Duke. It’s fun to see his defenses gradually crumble as he finds he can’t stay away from Charlotte. March exhibits the most growth, because his entire worldview has to make a dramatic shift if he wants to make a success of his marriage.

There is a secondary plot involving another nobleman who tries to seduce Charlotte, whereupon March needs to defend her. It felt like filler, as though the author realized the two leads were going in circles and needed something to push the plot along. Effective filler, but filler nonetheless.

I enjoyed the setting of 18th-century London. Isabella Bradford also writes historical fiction as Susan Holloway Scott, and her talent for description is evident here. Details about clothing, hair, food, and other everyday matters are slid smoothly into the story and bring it to life.

When you Wish Upon a Duke is an enjoyable romance about two people who find that “falling in love” does not translate into a “loving marriage” without a lot of work and some change on both their parts. There will be several more books about the Wylder sisters, so readers who enjoy this one should take note there are others on the way.

--Cathy Sova

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