Manda Collins’s (a new-to-Miss-B-romance-writer) Good Dukes Wear Black is third in her Lords of Anarchy series. Though Miss Bates hasn’t read the first two, she can safely say there’s nothing anarchic about Good Dukes Wear Black‘s hero, Piers Hamilton, Duke of Trent, from hereon referred to as Trent (Miss B., and thankfully, Collins, dislikes the name Piers). Au contraire, Trent is a sublime hero: generous, understanding, with just the right amount of protective bluster to endear him to reader and heroine. Our heroine is Miss Ophelia Dauntry, journalist on all things needlecraft at the Ladies Gazette. Collins ensures Trent and Ophelia’s acquaintance by making them friends to the heroes and heroines of the first two Lords of Anarchy novels. Though long acquainted, Trent and Ophelia are only aware of each other as attractive, available young people when circumstance bring them even closer. Ophelia’s fellow journalist, Maggie Grayson, is taken by two thugs (Maggie trying to fend off the brutes and getting a good boink to the head in the process) ostensibly on her husband’s orders because Maggie’s gone mad. Maggie’s husband, George Grayson, was one of Trent’s soldiers in the Napoleonic Wars. When George disappears and Ophelia discovers that Maggie may have be taken because of her investigative work into the mental institution’s unethical practices, Trent and Ophelia set out, as friends, to find Maggie and George and bring the culprits who took them to justice.
Collins’s Good Dukes Wear Black is a pleasant read. Ophelia is what we’d today call a feminist; then, the first inklings of the “independent woman.” Ophelia loves writing for the Ladies Gazette and adroitly avoids her insufferable mama’s marriage machinations. She adores her friends and inhabits neither a wallflower nor prima place in ton events. She doesn’t only want to avoid her mama’s choice, the insipid Lord Goring, but marriage altogether, given her love of writing and awareness of how marriage binds women from pursuing anything other than husband and family. But she’s an honest girl, likes Trent, and enters into a friendship. She’s honest about her desires too: he is quite handsome. Trent, for his part, is a considered, fair man, with wit and looks to boot. He likes Ophelia. It’s refreshing to have a hero consider the heroine’s personal qualities: he notes her loyalty, intelligence, how good a conversationalist she is. Miss Bates definitely enjoyed reading about a romance couple who become friends while navigating the murkier, more vulnerable, and elemental waters of desire and love. Trent and Ophelia’s relationship develops in a gentle, likeable way.
Collins’s romance’s strength lies in her ability to set lovely, lively, and witty exchanges between hero and heroine as love blooms and grows. Collins can write tenderness: witness this scene when Ophelia, usually a stalwart, strong girl, weakens and weeps for her lost, incarcerated friend:
“But you don’t have to be alone,” he said, giving in to temptation and reaching out to stroke a tear from her cheek. “Your friends are all there to listen when you need to talk about your worries.”
She leaned into his hand, almost unconsciously, like a cat accepting a caress.
“And what of you?” she asked, boldly meeting his gaze. “Are you my friend?”
He felt something spark between them. … It felt as if they’d been creeping toward this moment for months, years, decades, centuries.
“I’m afraid not,” he said carefully, noting the flare of disappointment, before adding, “At least, not only your friend, I hope.”
Miss Bates enjoyed this gentle banter. She liked how carefully Trent and Ophelia made their way to each other.
Good Dukes Wear Black is angst-free romance, as the following scene attests. Ophelia’s mother is displeased that Ophelia won’t marry the man she’d chosen for her. Trent’s response to Mrs. Dauntry’s anger pokes good-natured humour at the knight-in-shining-armor trope:
“Ophelia!” Mrs. Dauntry shouted from the other side of the door. “Ophelia, open this door this instant.”
“Let me handle her,” Trent said with a staying hand on her arm, as she’d begun to move toward the door.
“But she’s my mother,” Ophelia said in a low voice. “My responsibility.”
“I’m the one she’s truly angry with, however.” Trent said simply. “Let me do this for you. I may not be able to slay dragons, but the least I can do is handle your mother.”
Perhaps she’d been wrong about him, Ophelia thought as he turned to walk over and unlock the door. That was perhaps the most romantic thing anyone had ever done for her.
Every girl knows how formidable her mama can be and dragon-slayers are always appreciated, even if not necessary. Collins’s romance has many of these gently humorous moments for the reader to enjoy.
Gentle. Pleasant. Good-natured. In a way, this is both Collins’s romance’s attraction and detraction. Good Dukes Wear Black is placid, tension-less. The romantic suspense thread has to carry the novel’s conflict and Miss Bates is not sure it’s sufficient. Nevertheless, she still enjoyed reading the novel and would read Collins again. Mses Bates and Austen say that Collins’s Good Dukes Wear Black provides “real comfort,” Emma.
Manda Collins’s Good Dukes Wear Black is published by St. Martin’s Paperbacks. It was released on April 5th and is available at your preferred vendors. Miss Bates received an e-ARC from St. Martin’s Paperbacks, via Netgalley.