At the beginning of this year, I decided to subscribe to Book of the Month. One of my favorite things about BOTM is that I discover some amazing books that I hadn’t heard of before. In September, my favorite Book of the Month discovery was Bringing Down the Duke by Evie Dunmore, the first in her A League of Extraordinary Women series. If you like historical romance, feminism, and a bit of political activism, this book is for you.
Before we get to the romance, let’s talk about the setting and political drivers of the book. Bringing Down the Duke is set in 1879-1880 in England. Instead of looking at a well-known point in feminism’s history, say women’s rights to vote in the early 1900s, I love that this books takes us to an earlier, lesser-known moment. Here, women were fighting to change the Married Women’s Property Act so that women could retain their land, even after a change in marital status.
Annabelle Archer is among the first women admitted to Oxford University, but she’s on scholarship through a woman named Lucie. To keep her scholarship, Annabelle’s task is to convince men in power to vote to amend the Married Women’s Property Act. She ends up being assigned to the most influential – and difficult to sway – man in power, the Duke of Montgomery. He’s known for being cold and calculating… and firmly against the woman’s suffrage movement.
For his part, Sebastian Devereaux, nineteenth Duke of Montgomery, has his own motivations. His late father lost the family castle due to incompetence, and Sebastian must do everything he can to please the queen in order to win it back. His final duty in order to do just that? Make sure the conservative government wins the 1880 elections – and that certainly means no amendments in accordance with the feminists!
A lucky invitation and a well-timed illness lead Annabelle to spend a lot of time at Sebastian’s home estate, Claremont. And despite an initial dislike of each other – indeed, they come from different ends of the political spectrum – the two start to discover they actually have a lot in common, including an intellectual compatibility. Not to mention an undeniable mutual attraction.
In spite of their growing feelings, their desire for one another is threatened by societal norms: Annabelle is poor and hasn’t a title to her name; Sebastian is a duke with both money and power. He can’t possibly marry her, and she won’t be his mistress.
I love that the characters are well-developed and intelligent. Annabelle is clever, ambitious, and strong-willed, with dreams and goals beyond a romantic relationship. Sebastian is, although seemingly cold and calculating, actually a good person who is responsible and cares about people and morals. He recognizes Annabelle’s intelligence and respects women, in spite of early issues preventing him from supporting their cause.
Bringing Down the Duke is a cute but smart romance. I love the historical setting and the forward-thinking, feminist characters in this book. It’s also great to see politics and social issues infused in the genre. The romance gets pretty steamy, and the back and forth in regards to a real relationship is aggravating, but by the time it all works out, it’ll leave you joyous and ready for more.
Luckily, there is more to come! Bringing Down the Duke is just the first in the League of Extraordinary Women series. The second installment, due in Fall 2020, will focus on Lucie and a new character named Tristan. I predict future books in the series will follow Annabelle’s two friends, Hattie and Catriona, as well as Sebastian’s younger brother, Peregrin. I loved the first book, and I’ll certainly be reading the rest of the series!