About the Book

Title: A Lady for a Duke
Published: 2022
Swoonworthy Scale: 7

Sub-Genres: Historical Romance, Regency Era 
What’s Your Type: Childhood Best Friends to Lovers, Secret Identities, Overcoming Mental/Physical Injuries, Happy Trans Love Stories, Daddy Issues

It’s the love-liest time of the year over here at FYA! If you’re new to our Grown-Up Guide to Romance series, then you’re in for a treat, babes, because this is year five and we’ve got this la-la-la-love thing down to a science! (That also means there’s plenty of past posts to peruse!)

Seasoned romance readers are well aware of the use of tried-and-true tropes that pepper basically all of our favorite love stories, and for good reason: you don’t need to mess with success. When done right, a familiar trope can be like slipping into bed with a good friend and feeling safe, or taking a second glance at someone you thought you knew, but really didn’t.

Every Monday this February we’re taking a closer look at stories that do some of our favorite tropes right and we’ll leave you with even more suggestions so you can keep having a good time. If you feel like spreading the (consensual) love, let us know your fave recs for each week’s trope in the comments!

Up first is one of the most relatable tropes: falling in love with your best (and sometimes childhood) friend!

A Lady for a Duke by Alexis Hall

Fancy Dress to Fabio: Wonderfully Representative 

Will I ever not think of Belle when I see a woman in a fancy yellow dress? Probably not. I don’t know if our heroine, Viola, would be wearing that yellow dress, as her tastes tend to lean towards more muted jewel tones, but it is eye-catching for readers! The cover is pretty standard historical romance fare, but what’s great is that they used a real-life trans model. 

The Deal 

Viola Carroll has spent the last two and a half years since she was rescued from certain death at Waterloo becoming her authentic self. Her only regret at leaving behind her title and former privileged life behind is she let her childhood best friend, the Duke of Gracewood, assume she had died in battle. She now masquerades as a simple lady’s companion for her sister-in-law, Lady Marleigh, to stay close to her family. When Lady Marleigh gets a letter from Gracewood’s younger sister and realizes that the siblings are deeply unhappy, she persuades Viola to go along with her to visit in an effort to shock Gracewood out of his depression.

Viola isn’t prepared for how confusing and wonderful it feels to see Gracewood again, especially standing in front of him as a woman, but it will take all her bravery to be honest with him. 

The Leading Woman: Brave Beauty

My heart went out to Viola as she rejoiced in finding a new life for herself and the peace that it brought her, while at the same time mourning the things that should still be within her grasp (a loving marriage, kids, etc.) that now seem impossible. She’s unapologetic for her decisions, but it does surprise her that Gracewood hasn’t been able to let his friend go as much as she would’ve expected him to.  

The Leading Man: Broken Bestie

The Duke of Gracewood is suffering from a whole host of things when we meet him. Of course he has Aloof Dead Dad syndrome, and, on top of that, he lost the one person in the world who made him laugh and feel joy. Plus he’s dealing with the guilt/PTSD of being in war and chronic pain from a war wound in his leg. He feels an instant connection to Viola and is drawn to her beauty and kindness, and through their connection we see his more thoughtful, sensitive side. 

Risque Ranking: 7

Viola can’t figure out if and how she can admit to Gracewood that she’s his friend, so there’s plenty of meaningful glances and genuine reasons for two friends who suddenly find themselves attracted to one another to not take that first step. Y’all should know by now I love a slow burn and some star-crossed torture. Even when things do come to a head and secrets are revealed, there’s societal influences that also keep them hesitant to start anything (this part was a little less believable for me given a few things I don’t want to spoil). When things do heat up, Gracewood’s openness and Viola’s happiness make everything sexy and sweet. 

Ms. Perky’s Prize for Purplest Prose

It took gratifyingly little to rouse him to fresh passion. Just her body lowered over his, one knee in the space between his legs to take her weight. Her hands possessive upon his flanks. Her tongue teasing his nipples. Her teeth to the interior of his wrist. She could almost see the moment when he stopped … whatever he was doing. Thinking? Worrying? And slipped gently into bliss with her. Which was enough, too, for her to half forget her purpose. Entranced instead by the sounds he gave her. The little tremors that chased themselves across his skin. The way his muscles tightened beneath a gathering gleam of sweat.

Was it Good For You? 

Yes! If you want a happy trans love story where the impetus of the story isn’t the person’s transition, and everyone is very supportive, then this will give you all the joyous, lovey-dovey feels (be prepared for some quite schmoopy love declarations, haha). I like friends to lovers because I like yearning in my romances, and what attracted me to this book was there were valid reasons for Viola and Gracewood to be apart aside from just “oh, one friend has no clue the other likes them and they aren’t willing to ruin the friendship”. They have to work past a few different obstacles that could potentially be insurmountable, so there were real stakes and triumphs. 

I really loved the wry humor peppered throughout the book, especially in the supporting character of Lady Marleigh. While it did get a bit overlong in the middle (I could definitely have cut like 70 pages and been fine) and there were some more farcical plot twists in the third act (regarding outside parties, not the lovers themselves) that seemed a bit out of place compared to the earlier, more grounded moments, the overall writing was solid and well structured. I enjoyed my time with Viola and Gracewood, and I’d definitely come back to a sequel featuring one of the side characters.

Further Reading on FRIENDS TO LOVERS:

Stephanie Recommends:

Duke, Actually (A Princess for Christmas #2) by Jenny Holiday

You don’t have to read the first book to jump into this one (I didn’t) and it doesn’t even really need to be at Christmas because this book spans more than a year of time. What I loved about this book is that the “friendship to relationship” grew organically and the witty conversations between Max and Dani were amusing and entertaining.

Kandis Recommends:

Built to Last by Erin Hahn

This contemporary slow-burn has everything: revenge pop songs, home improvement, baby chicks, and a douchebag ex. Shelby and Cameron have crushed on each other since their days as wholesome child stars. Years after they’ve abandoned TV, pop careers, and the paparazzi, they reunite back in the spotlight of a home renovation show. 

Amanda Recommends:

Cover People We Meet on Vacation Emily Henry

People We Meet on Vacation by Emily Henry

I’m new to romance reads so I don’t have a recommendation…but the internet has recommended this book by Emily Henry (along with all her other books) and I am ready to dust it off my shelf and dive in! I was best friends with my husband before we started dating so this seems like a no brainer. There’s something so exhilarating about exploring romantic feelings with someone who knows you so well. 

Rosemary Recommends:

Every Summer After by Carley Fortune

This is one of those books that feels like it’s fulfilling some teenage daydream I had: Percy’s parents buy a lake house and two hot teenage brothers, Sam and Charlie, live next door. Over the next five years, Percy and Sam become best friends, spending all their time together when Percy’s family is at the lake house, and slowly but surely falling in love. The book has a now-and-then format, switching between teenage summers and present day, when Percy and Sam are reunited after a falling out twelve years later. Fortune does a great job of teasing out the tension – what happened between them??? – while still offering up plenty of sexy moments.

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Stephanie (she/her) is an avid reader who moonlights at a college and calls Orlando home. Stephanie loves watching television, reading DIY blogs, planning awesome parties, Halloween decorating, and playing live-action escape games.