PLOT: Newly minted debutante Lady Georgina's four sisters have all married well. Now her eccentric, voluptuary mother is determined that Georgy marry no less than a duke--the rakish, decadent Duke of Bedford, to be exact. But it's the Duke's younger, unhappily married, more serious brother John who intrigues the mischievous Georgina. And soon there may be TWO "decadent" dukes...
MINI-REVIEW: I'd say this is Henley's most spirited and enjoyable offering of the past four or five years. It has two excellent protagonists as well as wit, sass, and heart. I certainly enjoyed it more than the increasingly indistinguishable Regency comedies dominating today's market.
FULL REVIEW: Henley is back in fine form, with a Regency-era historical romance featuring several of her trademarks: a vivacious, devilishly witty heroine; her large and eccentric Anglo-Scottish family; and an authoritarian older hero with a good-natured streak of amused tolerance.
This novel will not likely top the list of anyone looking for traditional Regencies of the sweet and stately sort, or for those hoping for the lighter Regency-era romps that have proliferated throughout the 2000s. Also, readers who expect the same level of historical detail and royal and military history that Henley weaves into her Medievals and Elizabethans might be a bit disappointed: although THE DECADENT DUKE (DD) features a fair bit of Regency politics, the emphasis here is on the social doings of the large cast of aristocratic characters.
But, oh, what pleasures these doings offer!
The book features pages of rapid-fire, amusing banter between various characters, particularly between Georgina and her pithy mother and sisters. (Interestingly, although the family is characterized as unorthodox, they are still conventional enough to demand socially advantageous marriages; this tempered characterization is a shrewd and realistic move on the part of Henley, an author perhaps better known for more starkly delineated character types).
Henley hits a home run with her two leads. Georgina and John are thoroughly enjoyable protagonists that, though superficially different, complement one another to perfection.
Georgina's carefree lust for life; humorous appraisal of the foibles of society; and zesty, mischievous nature are delightful counterpoints to John's sober authority and arch, understated humor. John is a very well-characterized hero of the subtle Alpha sort; he is unfailingly decent to his lush of a brother and vulnerable sons, and exercises far more emotional and physical restraint than Henley's earlier Alpha-lions, delicious though they may be. Georgina also has an appealing undercurrent of vulnerability stemming from her father's neglect of her (though this does lead to some baldly Elektra-type linkages to John as a father-figure).
Their mutual attraction is convincingly presented, and the reader will more than likely be rooting for them along the way. Henley builds up the hero and heroine's acquaintance quite a bit--over 200 pages--before they even share a kiss, much less acknowledge tender feelings for one another. The result is an attraction and, later, a love that feels genuine and not rushed, like those found too often in today's romances. (I do think Henley could have given her lovers more "screen time" together, though).
ON HENLEY: Henley's heroines and heroes are bigger than life, her villains low-down and nasty, her eccentrics delightful and diverting. Henley lovers are more passionate than others, their tensions and traumas magnified to high drama. While she deals in stock characters and archetypes, she does not attempt to disguise this. Rather, she relishes and embellishes it. She paints with broad, bold, colorful brushstrokes; what her books lack in nuance they make up for threefold in vigor and sauce and spit.
What this book doesn't contain: No cheating or outside affairs (by either hero or heroine); no homosexual plotlines; no polyamorous elements in the main romance (other characters have affairs); no abusive male protagonists; no hero-heroine premarital sex
What this book contains: a 15-year age difference between heroine and hero; some salty language of the four-letter kind; and a Happily Ever After.
Sensuality level: mainstream single-title Romance level--3-4 brief heterosexual sex scenes described in detail (though this book has far less sensuality than Henley's earlier, classic works).
Heroine: Joi de vivre & Sparkling
Hero: Restraint & Conscience
VERDICT: This is a quick-moving, chuckle-worthy read with some moments of high melodrama and others of vividly detailed emotion. Allow yourself to be swept up amongst the varying currents. Henley is having the devil's own fun and invites you to share it with her.