Cover Bringing Down the Duke: Cheery yellow background, cartoon man and woman riding on a horse with London skyline in the background

About the Book

Title: Bringing Down the Duke (A League of Extraordinary Women #1)
Published: 2019

First Impressions: Judged It
What’s Your Type?
 Enemies to lovers, uneven social statuses, women’s suffrage, bluestockings, rich duke problems
The Lean:
Slow Burn
We Need to Talk:
Pleasantly Pleased
Was It Good For You? 
Smitten

First Impressions: Judged It

I totally judged/picked this book by its cover. I was immediately intrigued by a Victorian romance that didn’t feature an overly-intricate fancy dress and had such a cheery yellow background. It definitely feels more modern than the pages inside would suggest, but I don’t hate it. 

What’s Your Type?

  • Enemies to lovers
  • Uneven social statuses
  • Women’s suffrage
  • Bluestockings
  • Rich duke problems

Dating Profile

Annabelle Archer has finally escaped her dead-end life where her cousin stole all her family’s money (#VictorianLife) and has enrolled herself as one of the first female students at Oxford. In order to leave, she had to promise her cousin she’d send back “the money he will have to spend on a maid” every week (yeah, this guy is a shitheel), so she has to tutor other people, work for a professor, and run herself ragged just to make ends meet. Through it all, though, Annabelle is happy to finally be doing something of worth: educating herself and becoming independent.

Sebastian, the Duke of Montgomery, has Queen Victoria’s ear as one of her most persuasive and influential sycophants, but only because she has him by the balls—er, that is, the castle. His ancestral home was lost in a poker game by his father years ago to one of the Queen’s relatives, and while he’s spent the last decade or so building back up the family fortune, that one goal is still so far out of reach…or is it? Queen Victoria “requests” that he squash this Suffragist movement that wants silly things like women to be able to vote or keep their own property after they’re married. If he can successfully champion against this one bill, he can have his family seat back. Easy peasy.

Meet Cute

As part of her scholarship from the National Society for Women’s Suffrage, Annabelle must participate in weekly meetings and events like canvassing and protests. She and her fellow suffragists are wandering around outside Parliament when she spies a few men walking by and decides to hand them her flyers. Of course, one of these men happens to be the super influential Duke of Montgomery, who is quite peeved she actually looked into his eyes and, being a person who bends to Queen Victoria’s will, finds it amusing she thinks that he would ever openly support women’s suffrage.

After the other suffragists realize Annabelle is a stone-cold badass for walking up to the Duke (not that she knew who he was at the time, otherwise things probably would’ve gone differently), she’s given the monumental task of trying to convert him to their cause. Of course, that means Fate angles to toss them together as often as it can in awkward and amusing ways.

The Lean: Slow Burn

From While You Were Sleeping, Bill Pullman explains attraction to Sandra Bullock

Annabelle and Sebastian are both smart, attractive people, and while—as in most romance books—their connection is quite immediate, I think Dunmore does do a good job of providing credible reasons why these two would want to be together and stay together, despite the complications that would arise from such an arrangement (she being a commoner who doesn’t want to be in the spotlight, him being a Duke in need of fixing his family’s reputation). Plenty of misunderstandings were to be had, but in general they were cleared up quickly and smartly. Sebastian could be a bit of a lunk when it came to romantic notions (he totally thought Annabelle would be cool with being his mistress), but he didn’t feel overly alpha and regressive, which is often my complaint with Victorian heroes.

Dirty Talk

There’s plenty of dirty talk, though there’s a refreshing lack of cheesy euphemisms. More than the straight up dirty talk, I appreciate a man who can recite song lyrics or poetry as part of his seduction and not make it weird:

He nodded. “Auf Flügeln des Gesanges. It is about a man taking his sweetheart on a flight of fancy.”
Her hand flexed on his forearm, holding on more tightly. “What does it say?”
Her skirts brushed his leg with every step now. If he were to turn his head, pull her closer just an inch, he would smell the warm scent of her hair.
He shook his head, trying to unearth his German amid his swimming senses. “‘On wings of song, my love, I carry you away,’” he said, “‘away to the fields of the Ganges, where I know the most beautiful place—’” Now he stopped himself. Reciting romantic lines?
“How does it end?” she whispered.
Her eyes were a hundred miles deep. A man might never come up again once he took the plunge.
Damn it all.
“They make love under a tree,” he said.
He felt rather than heard her gasp.

Ms. Perky’s Prize for Purplest Prose

Teacher types on laptop while talking to student
Typing a romance novel on a computer screen

Here’s a taste of those dirty scenes, if you were wondering (and I’m sure you were):

“Yes,” he murmured, his fingers digging into the curve of her hip. Her uncorseted hip—he groaned into her mouth at the feel of it. His hand on her hip was guiding her in small, rhythmic thrusts against his thigh, and heat bloomed from the friction between her legs. She made an agitated sound. “Please, I can’t . . .”

We Need To Talk: Pleasantly Pleased

All historical romance novels are not of the same caliber. I was pleasantly surprised at how effortless and polished Dunmore’s writing felt, especially being a first time writer of the genre. It felt like a smart romance, and I know I keep using that word a lot, but I think you guys will also agree that sometimes there’s a lot more heaving bosoms and rock-hard crotches than brains and wit in these babies.

There was also a nice level of gravitas to the story. Annabelle has a history with romance that has made her more wary than most young women. Sebastian has a troubled relationship with his younger brother, whom he places a lot of responsibility on and feels personally offended by when he doesn’t rise to the occasion. I liked that it wasn’t all complete fluff, and that these felt like real people with real problems.

It’s clear Annabelle’s suffragist group is going to form the basis for the next books in the series, and I liked all of them enough to get excited for their future romances. There’s also a professor from Annabelle’s classes that I’m kind of interested in getting to know further, ifyaknowwhatImean

Was It Good For You? Smitten

A woman leans on her hands against a fence post in a fancy dress and sighs happily

Why, yes, it was! It was tough to put this one down, and I definitely shut myself away from the world so I could dive in without interruption. I would’ve liked to have seen more of the suffragist movement, but there ARE more books to come, so I’m betting there will be plenty more to satisfy me. The last third could have used some tightening up, but it was never enough to make me put the book down and take a breather. To say I’m merely “looking forward” to the next one is an understatement.

FTC Full Disclosure: I bought my own copy of this book. I received neither money nor peanut butter cups in exchange for this review. Bringing Down the Duke is available now.

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.