Cover Daring and the Duke: A redheaded woman in a yellow ball gown looks at the camera

About the Book

Title: Daring and the Duke (The Bareknuckle Bastards #3)
Published: 2020

First Impressions: Bold and Vibrant
What’s Your Type?
  Dark Side, Soap Opera Levels Of Drama, Betrayal And Bastards, Lost Love, Rejection Of The Rich
The Lean:
Mine! Mine! Mine!
We Need to Talk:
 This Is The Song That Never Ends
Was It Good For You? 
Left Unsatisfied

First Impressions: Bold and Vibrant

While Grace in the novel wears more gold thread than canary yellow, I love the vibrancy of the cover, and, really, of the entire trilogy. As a life-long fan of Ariel and Anne Shirley, I yearned for red hair as a child, and this woman’s mane looks glorious. I appreciate the confident pose and look on the cover model’s face, as it really captures Grace’s take-no-prisoners attitude.

What’s Your Type?

  • Take A Walk On The Dark Side
  • Soap Opera Levels Of Drama
  • Betrayal And Bastards
  • Lost Love
  • Rejection Of The Rich

Dating Profile

While her “brothers” have to share the title of King of Covent Garden, Grace is undisputedly its Queen. She runs a pleasure house for women and employs the women of the Garden in order to give them options and opportunities. She’s come a long way from when she was hidden away as the illegitimate daughter of a Duchess and baptized with a boy’s name so her not-father, the Duke of Marwick, could claim, on the books, that he had a male heir.

The Duke of Marwick actually HAD sons—three, in fact—but they were all borne out of wedlock. Once they became old enough, he stole them away and orchestrated a Survivor-style competition wherein he pitted them against each other for the sole spot as heir. None of them wanted it, but there was one who seemed like a natural choice: Ewan, the smartest, the strongest, the sneakiest. He supposedly betrayed his brothers and Grace, his young love, by trying to kill them before they escaped to spend twenty years looking over their shoulders, waiting for him to return to finish the job.

Meet Cute

Grace and Ewan have a traumatic shared history they both constantly reflect on. Ewan betrayed Grace’s trust and broke her heart when he took her fake male name and sent her packing. It’s been decades, but now, as the current Duke of Marwick, he’s still looking for her so he can finish the job. OR IS HE?

In the previous two books, Ewan swore revenge on his brothers, Devil and Beast, because Devil lied to Ewan and told him Grace has been dead for years. Ewan went a little nuts and tried to blow up his brothers’ smuggling business (and accidentally almost blew up Beast’s lady love, Hattie). This finally got him on Grace’s radar, as her brothers had also been lying to her about Marwick’s return to the London social scene.

At the start of this novel, Ewan is being held by Grace and her bodyguards as he convalesces from being partially blown up by his own bomb. When he realizes Grace is alive, he is overwhelmed with joy, even though she rejects him with a solid beating. Now, a year later, Ewan has returned a changed man and is determined to have Grace fall back in love with him.  

The LeanMine! Mine! Mine!

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

Grace and Ewan are each other’s “one that got away” so there are plenty of tortured looks, especially because Grace feels guilty for still wanting him after he tried to kill a bunch of people. Ewan is fixated on Grace to the point of obsession and has no other desires out of life. He is a cardboard cutout of a man in yearning. I was hoping for some explosive chemistry, but they were like a science experiment that didn’t turn out right.

Can we also please put a moratorium on romance novel characters constantly looking at their paramour and thinking, “Mine.”? BOTH Grace and Ewan did this at different times. It’s so cheesy!

Dirty Talk

MacLean is definitely no stranger to racy deeds, so there are plenty of moments to pick from, but I’ll leave you with this oft-referred back to imagery:

He pulled back to stare up at her, his gaze hot on her, framed by the torn fabric of her bodice. She groaned her frustration, her hips tilting towards him, and he rewarded the movement with a slow, delicious suck where she wanted him. “You are a queen,” he whispered.
She closed her eyes at the words. At the impossible promise in them.
And then he added, “Tonight, I am your throne.” The words crashed through her, leaving a trail of desire.

Ms. Perky’s Prize for Purplest Prose

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

This passage isn’t bad, and if I was in a better mindset to care for the characters, I would probably find it more appealing. But with sadly little investment in Ewan and Grace’s happiness, these kinds of proclamations (of which there are definitely more) just felt overwrought and over-written.

It was different from the kisses the other night—when she’d been masked and wigged and kohled beyond recognition. When he’d given her private pleasure for the sake of just that—pleasure. No past, no future, just present.
Of course it was different. Because this kiss was all time. This kiss was promise and threat, history and speculation. And it was the summation of twenty years of wanting him even as she knew that she would never have him.

We Need To Talk: This Is The Song That Never Ends

I was really curious about the conclusion of this trilogy after liking the first two books and wondering if Ewan was as dastardly as they claimed. How could you redeem a man who betrayed his family and killed men in the pursuit of revenge? The answer is, unsurprisingly, by having him never really betray them at all. Perhaps as the omniscient reader I have the benefit of hindsight, but, like, none of the Bareknuckle Bastards ever considered for a second that Ewan was being manipulated by their evil, manipulative father into doing his bidding? (Also, this is pure nitpick, but can you really spend “twenty years on the run” when you live in the exact same neighborhood the entire time?)

MacLean recaps, retreads, and reminds you of her plot points as if I’m an amnesiac Drew Barrymore in 50 First Dates and each page is a new day in which I’ve lost all memory of what came before. It’s exhausting wading through constant reminders of what Grace and Ewan meant to each other despite things being different now, how heartbroken she was when he came at her with a knife, how she had to run from him all their lives, ad nauseam.

They’re so focused on past hurts we’ve already heard about in the first two books that nothing is really happening in the present except the lovebirds making moony eyes at one another.  At least Felicity had her hunt for a rich husband complicating matters and Hattie her goal to be devirginized so she could run a shipping company. All Grace has is “should she forgive Ewan?” and a side plot about Queen Victoria’s thugs trashing illicit businesses that’s so cursory it’s not even worth speaking about.

I think maybe it was the wrong stylistic choice to have the evil Duke of Marwick dead of natural causes before the series even began. Having the threat of his unpredictable machinations hanging over the lovers would have given this book the villain and stakes it desperately needed. Without it, the book is just a very long, very boring Ewan apology tour.

Was It Good For You? Left Unsatisfied

Doctor Who saying "I won't lie, I was expecting more."

I went in expecting some finesse, sexy bits, and dramatic intrigue, but ended up with a bloated, lackluster story with some sexy bits. Unfortunately, I’ve had some issues with Sarah MacLean’s books in the past, but the first two of the trilogy had me thinking maybe I was being too hasty—but Daring and the Duke was a return to form. If you’re a huge fan of MacLean’s work, you may like this more than I did. Good luck!

FTC Full Disclosure: I received my free review copy from Avon. I received neither money nor peanut butter cups in exchange for this review. Daring and 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.