Series: Awakened By a Kiss #3
Published by Avon on July 26, 2022
Genres: Historical Romance
Format: Kindle or ebook
Source: the publisher
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USA Today bestselling author Charis Michaels concludes her Awakened by a Kiss series with another enchanting romance, this time telling the real story of Cinderella's stepsister and the man who can't help falling in love with her.
A Former Ugly Duckling...
Miss Drewsmina "Drew" Trelayne is a former awkward child and one-time wicked stepsister. Raised by a bitter, overbearing mother, Drew is all grown up and has made peace with her orange hair and bean-pole height. Her transformation has inspired her dream of opening a finishing school that emphasizes inner beauty, capability, and confidence. But launching a school costs money so Drew must begin with private clients who pay well and don't ask many questions.
A Reclusive Duke...
Ian Clayback, the Duke of Lachlan, lives alone on his Dorset estate, forced by scandal into a smuggler's life. When his estranged sister arrives with her two daughters, he feels obligated to give the girls a proper Season. Venturing back to society could clear his name and provide his vagabond nieces with a better life. Who better to help than the striking Miss Trelayne?
A Midnight Kiss...
Affording Drew's services isn't a problem for Lachlan, but his growing desire for her is. As his nieces warm to her gentle charm, he is overwhelmed by her unique beauty and open manner. When they're caught in a scandalous embrace, nothing short of marriage will save all of them from further scandal.
Can a marriage made in haste be love's saving grace?
I received a review copy of this book from the publisher.
The Awakened By a Kiss series by Charis Michaels takes elements of fairytales or other familiar stories and weave them into historical romances that blend humor and emotion, the ordinary and the decidedly quirky. A Duchess by Midnight is the third in the series, the second I have read, and I thoroughly enjoyed it.
The characters are by far the best part of A Duchess by Midnight: highly individual, each with aspects that set them apart from the run-of-the-mill romance character. Several of the secondary or tertiary characters (Ian’s sister and his friend the prince in particular) are quirky to the point of oddness (and well past “eccentricity”), but most are believable, their differences born of their past experiences. The book draws on elements of “Cinderella,” including a midnight flight, a lost slipper, and a sort-of-godfather, but Cinderella—or rather, Cynde—remains a relatively minor character.
Drewsmina Trelayne may have started out as an evil stepsister, but she has deliberately rebuilt her personality to become a calmer, kinder, more understanding woman, one who seeks to help other young ladies who find themselves struggling to shine in tonnish society. I really loved Drew, who has worked hard to remake herself; she displays hard-won poise, patience, wisdom, and confidence. But although she is no longer the demanding, shrewish girl she once was, the emotional abuse she herself suffered combined with her awareness of her past horribleness mean that beneath her surface confidence is a deep conviction that she doesn’t deserve either love or happiness.
Ian, Duke of Lachlan, is an idiot. Oh, not intellectually; he’s actually quite intelligent. But he hates surprises, so much so that he invariably reacts rather rudely, and while he cares deeply about his family and his tenants, he’s clueless about people and relationships generally. (No, I don’t think he’s on the spectrum; it’s a product of how he was raised.) He hasn’t the least idea of how to relate to his 16-year-old nieces, nor to his sister. And to be fair, they are not making it easy for him!
Drew joins the household as, essentially, a finishing governess; her role is to teach the girls everything they need to know to thrive, not just survive, in their first Season. (Side note: isn’t 16 a bit young for a debut? Most romance heroines seem to debut at 17 or 18.) But it quickly becomes clear that there is something very wrong in their past, something neither they nor their mother will speak of, and each of them is reacting to it in their own way.
Ian is, of course, completely bowled over by Drew, attracted both emotionally and physically. But he’s utterly blind to the former (clueless, remember?), and tries to ignore the latter. The one thing he is clear on is that his family desperately needs her—her understanding as well as her ability to cope with the girls. Drew is, of course, attracted to him as well, which leads to the expected compromising situation, and the societally mandated outcome.
Their relationship, along with Drew’s relationship with the girls, are the primary focus of the plot, though there’s a side plot involving the conflict between industrialization and craftsmanship. All of them are carrying deep emotional wounds that need healing, and if that comes about a little too easily in most cases, I’ll let it pass, because Charis Michaels clearly understands the difference between “healed but scarred” and “now everything is magically completely fine.”
I realize that I haven’t said much about the nieces. Of the two, I related most to introverted Ivy, and initially I found Imogene’s defiant, challenging attitude annoying—as she means it to be. But as I learned more about them, I began to see Imogene’s strengths. She is, in some ways, not unlike Drew (who is stronger than she herself knows.) And I loved how Drew respects the girls and their likes and dislikes. She’s not out to change their fundamental natures, but to help them shine. (If that seems odd, given her own personality change, well… perhaps her current aspect is who she really was all the time, under the hurt.) At any rate, I hope Imogene gets her own book someday. She’s formidable, and I cannot wait to see what happens when she takes on the ton.
There aren’t many authors who manage to balance humor and pathos this well, taking the reader from laughter to deep sympathy within the same scene. Tessa Dare does it well, as do Julia Quinn and Sarah McLean, which puts Charis Michaels in very good company indeed. The overall tone of A Duchess by Midnight comes closest to Tessa Dare’s books; if you’re a fan of Dare’s books, I highly recommend you give Michaels’s novels a try.
Reading this book contributed to these challenges:
- COYER Seasons 2022: Summer