Narrated by Kate Reading
Was there any likelihood that this, the latest release from the phenomenal author/narrator team of Loretta Chase and Kate Reading, was going to get anything other than top marks? Nah. It’s fabulous, in terms of both narration and content. In A Duke in Shining Armor, book one in her new Difficult Dukes series, Ms. Chase presents listeners with a wonderfully realised, character-driven road-trip romance that’s full of the insight, warmth, humour and sparkling dialogue that is so characteristic of her stories. Add Kate Reading’s outstanding narration to the mix, and you’ve got just over eleven hours of unequivocal audiobook joy to look forward to. I promise.
Lady Olympia Hightower is the only female child of the Earl and Countess of Gonerby and is, at the age of twenty-six, rather firmly on the shelf. The only thing she has achieved during the course of her seven London Seasons is to be named “Most Boring Girl of the Season” each year, so the proposal of marriage from the young, wealthy and utterly gorgeous Duke of Ashmont comes completely out of the blue. Ashmont is one of three disreputable gentlemen known as “Their Disgraces” thanks to their reputations for drunken carousing, high-stakes gaming, fighting-duels and inveterate womanising (the others being their Graces of Blackwood and Ripley), and will most likely make a terrible husband, but Olympia knows her duty. Instead of carefully planning how best to support their six sons after the earl’s demise, her impractical parents have lavished money upon kitting her out each season, pinning their hopes on her making an auspicious marriage and providing for her brothers that way. She’s a practical, no-nonsense sort of girl, so she accepts Ashmont’s proposal.
Hugh Ancaster, the Duke of Ripley, has – literally – just returned to England after a year spent abroad, and is most surprised when Ashmont not only tells him he’s getting married, but asks Ripley to stand up with him at the wedding. He’s also rather surprised at the rather tender, effusive way in which Ashmont speaks of his betrothed; almost as if he actually likes her – but regardless, Ripley does his job and gets Ashmont to the wedding only a little worse for wear after the previous night’s drunken carouse… and subsequent fight. All is set. The room is full of family and friends, the parson is ready, Ripley has the money for the license and all the other bits and pieces that have to be paid for, and all that’s missing is the bride. Seeing Ashmont become more impatient by the second – he’s not known for his even temper – and worried he’ll also become more inebriated by the second and therefore likely to become aggressive, Ripley agrees to go to look for the soon-to-be-Duchess of Ashmont, and finds her – slightly tipsy and half-way out a window declaring her intention of taking some air in Kensington Gardens. In her wedding dress. In the rain.
Not quite knowing what to do to calm a slightly drunk, slightly weepy bride who seems set on escaping, Ripley does the only thing he can in order to fulfil his promise to Ashmont that he will make sure things go smoothly. A wedding can’t go smoothly or any way at all without a bride – so he follows her. When he is unable to persuade her to return to the wedding, he agrees to escort her to her Aunt Delia’s house in Twickenham, confident that Olympia’s disappearance will simply be regarded as one of the pranks he and his friends are so fond of.
The road-trip that ensues is one of those in which pretty much everything that can do wrong does go wrong. After a cramped hackney ride, a dunking in the Thames and a heated altercation with a ruffian over his mistreatment of a dog, the pair arrives in Twickenham to discover that Aunt Delia is away and not expected to return for weeks. With returning home no longer an option at this point and in full expectation that Ashmont and Blackwood are in pursuit, Ripley opts to take Olympia to the home of favourite aunt, the widowed Lady Charles Ancaster.
The thing I love so much about road-trip stories – especially in historical romance – is that they afford time for the protagonists to spend quality time together getting to know each other; as Olympia says later in the novel, over the three days she and Ripley spend travelling and then at his aunt’s they spend more time together than many couples do throughout an entire courtship. Ms. Chase makes the most of this closeness, and the couple shares many entertaining, funny and sometimes awkward conversations, during the course of which Ripley displays a great deal of thoughtfulness, insight and wit – and a surprising love of romance novels! – and Olympia tries to maintain a kind of pragmatic distance, but fails spectacularly in the face of her companion’s adorably relentless, good-natured cheer.
Olympia and Ripley are superbly wrought, well-rounded and engaging characters whose insecurities are realistic and whose flaws add richness and depth to their personalities. I loved the way in which Ripley comes to realise that Olympia has been overlooked and underappreciated all her life – even by him! – and to feel anger on her behalf. He can’t understand why this lovely, witty, intelligent and utterly captivating young woman could ever have been thought boring, and learns that Olympia’s view of herself has been seriously skewed as a result of the perceptions of others. For her part, Olympia comes to see that the Ripley beneath the terrible reputation is charming, funny, perceptive and unnervingly attractive. Proper, boring girls like her aren’t attracted to rakes, yet the more time she spends in Ripley’s company, the harder it is for her to deny that’s exactly what she’s feeling.
The biggest roadblock in the way of the path to true love is the issue of male honour, something which often seems ridiculous to heroines (and possibly to the modern listener!). But it’s more than that. Ripley knows instinctively that while Olympia is excellent duchess material, she shouldn’t be Ashmont’s duchess; he wouldn’t truly appreciate her for the wonderful woman she is, and he’d end up making her miserable. But Ashmont is one of his best and oldest friends; they practically grew up together and the last thing Ripley wants to do is hurt him. But how can he allow the woman he loves to marry a man so completely wrong for her when Ripley knows he’s so completely right?
I absolutely adored this book in print, and couldn’t wait to listen to the audio version (I read it some months ago, so it was a wonderful way to refresh my memory). I knew Kate Reading would do justice to this tender, funny, sexy love story, and I was right to think that, because her performance is utterly sublime. Her characterisations of the entire cast are spot on and she does an especially good job with Ripley, perfectly capturing his insouciant charm, his wit and his wicked sense of humour. Their other “Disgraces” are nicely portrayed, too; while Ashmont is not the right man for Olympia and he’s certainly got some growing up to do, there’s something ridiculously endearing about him that bodes well for his own story when it comes. Olympia’s practicality and non-nonsense outlook is perfectly and expertly conveyed; and as always, her performance of the dialogue between the two is a thing of beauty. But my absolute, favourite part of Ms. Reading’s performance overall has got to be her portrayal of Tipsy! Olympia near the beginning of the book. She doesn’t go over the top so as to be unintelligible, but puts a little slur into her voice which is just enough to conjure the image of a young woman wearing a meringue of a white wedding dress swaying slightly on her feet and looking a bit the worse for wear.
If you’re a fan of the author’s, chances are you’ve already pre-ordered the audio of A Duke in Shining Armor anyway, but if you haven’t, I hope I’ve said enough to convince you that you need this audiobook in your life! Loretta Chase and Kate Reading are an author/narrator team to be reckoned with; Ms. Chase is a doyenne of historical romance par excellence, and Ms. Reading’s way with the deadpan put-down is second to none.
Treat yourself. Go on. You know you want to.
TITLE: A Duke in Shining Armor
AUTHOR: Loretta Chase
NARRATED BY: Kate Reading
GENRE: Historical Romance
STEAM FACTOR: 5
REVIEWER: CazBuy A Duke in Shining Armor by Loretta Chase on Amazon EXCERPT: