Cover of The Duke Undone: A floral background with little cartoon outlines of a woman painting and a man tipping his hat.

About the Book

Title: The Duke Undone
Published: 2021
Swoonworthy Scale: 9

First Impressions: Fancy Wallpaper
What’s Your Type? 
Opposites Attract from the Wrong Side of the Tracks, Art, Alcoholism, Discussion of Consent
The Lean: 
Stoked My Fire
We Need to Talk: 
YMMV
Was It Good For You? 
Head Over Feet

First Impressions: Fancy Wallpaper

I like the delicate blue and cream wallpaper background, but I’m not sure it’s right for THIS book. The contents are a little darker than the whimsical cartoon characters suggest.

What’s Your Type?

  • Opposites attract from the wrong side of the tracks
  • Art
  • Alcoholism
  • Discussion of consent

Dating Profile

As a woman studying painting at the prestigious Royal Academy, Lucy Coover is constantly fighting for better access to the tools she needs to learn everything she can. She’s barred from classes where they draw the physical form because of nudity, so when she literally stumbles over a gorgeous, naked man lying in the middle of an alley, she’s…curious. She can’t get the lines out of her head, so she paints his nude form and sells the painting to a bored, rich housewife.

Anthony Philby, a newly-minted Duke and man suffering from second-son syndrome, isn’t supposed to be drinking if he wants to keep his dukedom, per his late controlling father’s will, but, well, the dude is majorly depressed and not coping. When he is almost shot over a supposed “affair” with someone he barely knows because she has his naked portrait hanging in her closet, he decides to track down this L Coover artist and give him a piece of his mind.

Meet Cute

Anthony tracks Lucy down at her school and eventually realizes she is who he’s looking for, and the meeting doesn’t go well. He’s annoyed and accuses her of being a prostitute (how else could she have seen his naked body?), she’s guilty and then outraged. I rolled my eyes a little when she impulsively kisses him for reasons, but stick it out.

The Lean: Stoked My Fire

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

I felt the chemistry! Lucy and Anthony get to know each other over a series of meetings and conversations, which I always appreciate, and there’s a sense of “this can’t last” because of their differences in social stratospheres, as well as Anthony’s issues with alcohol and Lucy’s unwillingness to deal with it because she’s already had one gin-soaked man disappoint her.

Dirty Talk

Lucy is an artist, so of course you know there’s going to be some art-like language during the sexy bits:

“You wanted to see.” He grated the words. “Look. Look at me.”

She hadn’t realized her eyes had closed. She forced her lids up and looked into his face, his expression hard and concentrated. His gaze locked on hers as he flexed and thrust deeper still. He clasped her hand, fingers spreading hers as they twined. Even that sensation, her fingers stretching around his, mirrored this delicious stretching inside her. She gasped, gasped again. He was galloping her now, and she was surging to meet him. There was nowhere to go but out of her body, bursting the skin. There was no line, no form, just smears of color, of feeling. Black, green, ochre, red.

Ms. Perky’s Prize for Purplest Prose

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

Lowell’s writing was refreshingly purple-free, and I actually ended up highlighting multiple passages because I enjoyed her turn-of-phrase or particular insight. Her love scenes were a nice mix of sweet and sexy.

She lifted herself onto her elbow as he turned down the gaslight. “Don’t turn off the lights,” she said with urgency.

His mouth crooked. She was mad to fear that he’d proceed in darkness. He’d dreamed of the blush that stained her breasts with seashell pink, dreamed of the freckles on her inner thighs. Fire was his accomplice.

We Need To Talk: YMMV

There is a lot to unpack in this book! Lowell covers a wealth of topics and does it all with a satisfying prose. I loved that the characters felt very real and messy, that there seemed to be a lot of research that went into the time period and the subjects of art and teaching, and I didn’t even mind the last quarter veering into dramaaaaa territory (if the villain had a mustache, it would be a-twirling).

But I do think this book won’t be for everyone, and it will completely depend on your story-telling preferences. There are three possible issues that I think could give some people pause: Anthony comes from major privilege but feels very powerless throughout most of the novel, and even though he says he’s not an alcoholic and can stop any time…he’s definitely dependent and depressed. It’s a bit “poor little rich boy” and I know some do not have any tolerance for that. I think he and Lucy had enough honest conversations and he had enough growth by the end that I am happy with them together. No human is perfect, right?

Some are going to have a major problem with the crux of the plot, in which Lucy paints Anthony’s nude form without his consent and sells the painting. Was that a shitty thing to do? Yes. But I think their ensuing discussions about consent cause her to realize what she did was wrong on multiple levels and she does apologize. That still won’t be enough for some, and if you can’t forgive her, then I get that and this won’t be the book for you.

Lastly, Anthony is another colonialist British character who “went off to war” and came back with a host of traumatic experiences. The characters don’t glorify colonialism and condemn the war, but I know some refuse to read anything that uses wars from this time period as part of any plot device, which, again, I completely understand.

Was It Good For You? Head Over Feet

Rachel from Friends jumping up and down in excitement.

Hells yes. I was NOT expecting to fall in as deep as I did with this book, but it caught me by the heartstrings and painted me like one of its French girls.

FTC Full Disclosure: I received my free review copy from Berkley Books. I received neither money nor peanut butter cups in exchange for this review. The Duke Undone 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.