Book Review: “Bringing Down the Duke,” by Evie Dunmore

Another week, another amazing romcom! Only this time, historical romance is the name of the game. Bringing Down the Duke was recommended by a friend and I will never be able to repay her because League of Extraordinary Women may be my new favorite historical fiction series! Women’s suffrage and hot dukes and scandals, oh my! Without further ado…


From the Publisher:

England, 1879. Annabelle Archer, the brilliant but destitute daughter of a country vicar, has earned herself a place among the first cohort of female students at the renowned University of Oxford. In return for her scholarship, she must support the rising women’s suffrage movement. Her charge: recruit men of influence to champion their cause. Her target: Sebastian Devereux, the cold and calculating Duke of Montgomery who steers Britain’s politics at the Queen’s command. Her challenge: not to give in to the powerful attraction she can’t deny for the man who opposes everything she stands for.

Sebastian is appalled to find a suffragist squad has infiltrated his ducal home, but the real threat is his impossible feelings for green-eyed beauty Annabelle. He is looking for a wife of equal standing to secure the legacy he has worked so hard to rebuild, not an outspoken commoner who could never be his duchess. But he wouldn’t be the greatest strategist of the Kingdom if he couldn’t claim this alluring bluestocking without the promise of a ring…or could he?

Locked in a battle with rising passion and a will matching her own, Annabelle will learn just what it takes to topple a duke….

A stunning debut for author Evie Dunmore and her Oxford Rebels, in which a fiercely independent vicar’s daughter takes on a duke in a fiery love story that threatens to upend the British social order.


What I Loved:

  • The History. I know a lot of people hate the little details that Dunmore misses, like the nitty gritty of how a queen would address a duke, the undergarments, etc., but I loved how Dunmore portrayed the first women going to Oxford and the suffragist movement. While Annabelle isn’t the “perfect” feminist, I love her fierce advocacy for women in the schools and the right for women to have their own property in marriage. The women’s suffrage movement in England is not something I was particularly familiar with, and this inspired me to do some digging. Half the point of historical fiction is to give you a basis of interest, and that is exactly what Bringing Down the Duke did for me.
  • The Female Friendships. Annabelle, Lucie, Catriona, and Hattie are my new favorite friendship quad. They are strong, spunky, completely different women who unite under the cause of women’s suffrage, but develop such a deeper bond from that. Annabelle is independent and erudite, all brains and sass; Lucie is the champion of the cause with acerbic wit; Catriona is the quiet friend that sees everything; and Hattie the sweet romantic with a practical streak. They are all very well fleshed out and complement each other so well.
  • (Related) Annabelle’s Sass. While I had some issues with the leading man Sebastian (more on that below), Anna is extremely relatable to me. Anna is the smartest person in most rooms – she is extremely well educated, witty, and well spoken, but due to the “inferiority” to her birth, she constantly must dumb herself down around gentry and men. The moments where she slays without slipping the veneer of courtesy are some of my favorites. On the flip side, I also loved how she is a woman that has personal desires and falls in love, because it struck such a human cord – Annabelle is the full package.

“Why not… keep yourself content in your femininity instead of confused?”

“Because, my lord, if the marchioness [Lady Hampshire] believes that the female brain is incapable of forming a sound analysis on political issues, why should anyone trust her analysis on women in politics?”


What Didn’t Work As Well For Me:

  • Sebastian, Duke of Montgomery. I am going to caveat this by saying that some moments, Sebastian’s motives are completely understandable, he clearly demonstrates how high of regard he has for Annabelle, and he does the right thing in the end. However, Sebastian’s ruthless ambition in the beginning, his shitty politics, and a coldness disguised as “duty” were a real turn off. From the moment he tries to force his little brother into the armed forces to the moment he tries to make Annabelle his official mistress despite her academic ambitions, Sebastian only partly redeems himself in the end. I still loved the steamy scenes and I loved how much Sebastian respects Annabelle’s mind, but there were moments it was almost impossible to root for him.
  • (Small Complaint) The Steam. I love romance novels, and I love a bit of smut. However, I wouldn’t call the sex scenes in Bringing Down the Duke as steamy as I normally like, or as female-forward, so to say. They were good, but not great.

Conclusion:

Bringing Down the Duke was not a perfect historical novel, or a perfect romance novel. But it was fun as all hell, got me thinking about the historical context and had me looking up the first female students at Oxford and the women’s suffrage movement, and had a fun romance. There was a hot connection between Annabelle and Sebastian, and I flew through the book without skimming. More serious readers of the historical or the romance genre may be disappointed, as will women looking for a “feminist” romance. However, I had a blast, and can’t wait to read all of the subsequent books in the series. Four and a half waves out of five! Pick up your copy here (on sale in paperback with Bookshop!)

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