The Unexpected Duchess (Playful Brides #1) by Valerie Bowman

The Unexpected Duchess (Secret Brides, #4) - 

Valerie Bowman
ARC provided by St. Martin's Press through Netgalley

I suppose we're all familiar, if not with Cyrano de Bergerac's actual life (which is very entertaining, since he was actually gay, and involved in love affairs with other gentlemen authors, and when these ended badly they published works vilifying the other, there were death threats, daring escapes, and all the entertaining things which populated the lives of libertines), then with Edmond Rostand's play about his love for Roxane and how he wooed her on behalf of the handsome Neuvillette. 

The Unexpected Duchess starts with a twist to the Cyrano the Bergerac play: Lucy is determined that her friend Cassandra won't have to marry the Duke of Claringdon. Not only because Cass in being pressured by her mother to accept his attentions, but also because she's in love with another gentleman - the gentleman, in fact, who believing he wouldn't survive the battle, made Derek promise to marry Cass. 

I liked Lucy from the very start. Her motto is: "Be bold!" 
And she's a very good friend. You can never go wrong if you write ladies being supportive of their lady friends, believing in them, wanting the best for them. I don't understand why this is so rarely portrayed in books... 
Lucy, Cass, and Jane each have different strengths and, as Lucy points out:
“We all must help one another. Help one another to get what we want. We’ll each do the thing the others cannot do and assist one another.”
Lady friendships!! Yes!!!

Not only that but the blurb isn't lying: Lucy does have a sharp tongue. She's very witty and a delight to read from the very first page:
(...) the lady had a rapier for a tongue. She jabbed with nouns, riposted with verbs. And she delivered adjectives with a particular flourish. By all accounts, she was a master. One who could rip an overzealous beau to shreds in mere seconds.
So when Cass meets the duke in the garden, Lucy is behind a hedgerow telling her exactly how to turn him off from the prospect of marrying her... until she's found.

Derek and Lucy's confrontations are very amusing. Neither of them backs down from the challenge. 

Lucy is just delightful - she's very, very clear on the importance of consent:
“Mean? Mean? Cass, the man is trying to court you and refuses to take no for an answer and you’re worried about being mean?”
I'm so, so glad consent isn't being treated lightly!

Sadly, the drama in this book dragged for too long. 
I like my HR to be either realistic (in which case it has free reign to bring out the drama), or light-hearted (in which case I'm reading to be amused). But a light-hearted HR with drama that just drags and drags... and then seems resolved, but wait no, but then again yes, but no again... and so on, and on...
It became silly, and tedious - this book has nearly 400 pages, and it would have been better served by cutting about 200 pages of needless drama, more fitting of a soap-opera than a well-researched (and it was!) HR.

I suppose the next book will be about Cass and her beloved Julian - I find Cass sweet, but so shy... and Julian... I didn't much care for him, I don't really find it appropriate to make your friends promise you on your deathbed to marry someone they've never met. Surely a nice person would make a friend promise to try and be happy, to enjoy the life you wouldn't be able to enjoy...

I still am going to read it, because Bowman got me hooked, and I must admit I really am looking forward to Jane and Garrett's book - that is... I hope they'll have one!

So, with one single book, I'm convinced to read the whole series, for all my complaining, and knowing how hard I am to please, this is definitely a book worth reading. 

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