DUKES PREFER BLONDES – Loretta Chase
England in 1835
Brought up to marry a duke, Lady Clara Fairfax, The Marquess of Warford's daughter, was not particularly disappointed when the man her parents intended for her married another. Lady Clara grew up with three older brothers and could not understand why she, as intelligent and capable as they—if not more so—was so limited in freedom. Instead, lady rules bind her as tightly as any corset. She'd rather not be bound also by the dictates of a husband. Yet, since her debut, men who see only her beauty and dowry are constantly badgering her by proposing marriage.
Oliver Radford, called Raven since his days at Eton, comes from a long line of younger sons; his own father being the younger son of a duke. Raven's father was too bright to settle for a useless, idle life, however, and took up a career in law. Raven followed in his father's footsteps and became a barrister as well.
Lady Clara and Raven met twice when young, and he was amused and even impressed by her manner. Since then, she has become interested in the education of indigent females. This takes her into some seamy neighborhoods, and when she sees one of the school's most promising students being assaulted, she drives the attacker off. In this, she makes an enemy. She soon encounters Raven again, who has his own enemies due to his prosecuting criminals. They don't readily recognize each other, but they meet again when Raven saves Clara from being hit by a gig. She surprises Raven by being able to give him a clear account of the “accident” and a detailed description of the driver. Some time later, she later dresses down and goes to find a lawyer to help her find a young boy lured away from his sister, the aforementioned promising student. And whom should she find in the law office but Raven? At last they recall how they first met.
Lots of people, from lowlife criminals to the highest classes—even a duke in Ravens family—take part in this highly complex novel. The main focus is on Lady Clara and Raven and their antagonistic, yet amusing, relationship. In spite of their adversarial dialogues, there is an attraction neither wants. Raven goes so far as to put a wall between his intellect and emotion…good luck with that! To list a few of the other characters, there are the three sisters who starred in the recent Seamstress Trilogy ; Clara's family and Raven's, including Beastly Bernard, his nasty bully of a cousin who inherits the family dukedom; a villainous criminal who wants Raven dead and the boys he corrupts; and Clara's bulldog of a maid. All of these and more are distinct and unique characters. Raven and Clara are an unlikely pair according to the ways of the world in those times. Are they both unconventional enough to care?
DUKES PREFER BLONDES is a great read if you are able to keep the large cast straight. It would help to have read the Seamstress stories where many were introduced. Besides that, Ms. Chase paints a vivid picture of the period between the Regency and Victorian times. Historical romance fans should not miss it.