Khanh the Killjoy

The Duchess Hunt

The Duchess Hunt - Jennifer Haymore "'I...Sarah, I want you. But I don’t want to hurt you. I’m not the kind of man who...uses women.' Simon flinched. 'I don’t want to ruin you.''I know,' she whispered. 'But sometimes I wish you did.'"This was such an enjoyable book. Tastes are all subjective, I know, but ultimately here's what really makes a romance novel enjoyable for me: mature, rational, likeable characters who behave realistically. They do not have histrionics, they are not spiteful, they do not play games with each other. This book has that, and so much more.The barrier between true love in this book is that of social class. Simon Hawkins is the Duke of Trent. He is not a rake; he is nowhere close to a rake. Simon is the model of propriety, and has been his entire life. I loved him from the moment we first see him as a child, when he rescues the crying, frightened Sarah from a blackberry bramble, in which she became stuck. Despite their vastly different social status, Sarah and Simon has been friends ever since. Simon, as well as his entire family, treats Sarah (who is the estate gardener's daughter) with utter kindness, with no condescension whatsoever. She received a genteel education alongside the children of the ducal household, and they have always considered her less a servant than a sister. Simon himself has always considered her a close friend and a confidante until one day she became something more."So pretty.Something clenched inside him at that thought. He’d thought of Sarah as pretty for years, but in a detached way. She’d been pretty to him like a painted landscape might be pretty, or even like he might describe his sister as pretty.But this kind of pretty was altogether different. This kind made his body harden in places it should damn well be prohibited to harden in her presence."Simon loves Sarah, wants her badly, desperately, but he cannot have her. His parents were infamous throughout the ton for their promiscuity and their impropriety, and ever since he was old enough to understand that, he has behaved like a model Duke in order to rectify their bad deeds and redeem his family's name in society. Everything he does is with his family in mind, it is why he must behave with utter respectability and seemliness. In his mind, that makes Sarah completely forbidden to him. He cannot have her as a wife because it would be utterly scandalous for a duke to marry a gardener's daughter, even a properly-raised one. He does not look down on Sarah at all, not for being a female, not for her low status. He respects her judgment and her intelligence; instead of hiding things from her, he shares the details of his investigation and his difficult situation as they unfold, and that is so refreshing to me.Simon's own code of morals, his self-restraint, and above all, his respect for Sarah, prevents him from seducing her or making her his mistress. Furthermore, he has decided to marry this season, and he must choose an appropriate candidate; after his marriage, he will never be unfaithful to his wife, even if it is with his only love, Sarah. Simon's upright character and his respect and love for Sarah made me love him so much, in return.Sarah is such a well-written character. She is beautiful, strong, and competent. Sarah is not prone to hysteria, she does not act out. Despite her low birth, she is as genteel as any lady (probably more so, actually) in the Ton. In fact, she probably behaves more correctly and properly because of her self-awareness as a person of unequal status to Simon. Another reason I respect her: she is not ashamed of her attraction to Simon. She does not set o ut to seduce him for his title, she is not mercenary, she is not malicious. She wants him because she loves him. Sarah knows she will never be able to marry Simon, and she knows he is too respectful of her to seduce her or ask her to become his mistress. Yet, Sarah wants him, and she is not ashamed for it. Sarah know this is her last opportunity to have him before he gets married, and she takes it, because like Simon, she will never willingly help him cheat on his future wife. Sarah is attracted to Simon, she desires him physically, and she is not ashamed to feel such."...And yet, she did not feel like a whore. No bolt of lightning had struck her down where she slept. No pang of conscience had overtaken her. She was still Sarah Osborne. Her feelings about the world hadn’t changed. Only her feelings about Simon had grown stronger."Simon and Sarah love each other, they acknowledge it, and the implicit understanding that they cannot have each other is painful for both."'I wished it had been me,' she said softly. 'When you were dancing with Miss Stanley and the others. I wished you were dancing with me.'He gazed at her unspeaking for a moment. Then he said, 'I did, too.'"There are two subplots in this book, and they are both extremely well-done. The mystery unfolds realistically, believable, and does not feel like it is a weak disguise to get the two protagonists together. It makes sense, and it is compelling. The way the mystery unfolds and the investigation were well-done, there is no outrageous attempts at making Simon or his siblings into Sherlock Holmes; they are merely competent men with the money and resource to undertake an investigation of this sort. I truly enjoyed the subplot. There is a leeeeettle bit of religion in this book, but even for me (who runs away in righteous anger whenever religion is mentioned), it was not pushy in the least, and it did not interfere with my enjoyment of the book whatsoever. In fact, it probably takes a nitpicky person as I to even notice the infinitesimal details like that.Usually I cringe when the first book in a series is such an obvious setup to the sequels, but in this case, it got me screaming MORE MORE MORE. I absolutely loved the Hawkins family, the enfant terrible & prodigal son Lukas (who is as big a rake as you can imagine), the illegitimate, hard-working Sam, the younger brothers Mark and Theo, and the sweet, shy, utterly lovable Esme. Their obvious love for each other and their respect and acceptance of Sarah and Simon were wonderful to read. I cannot wait for the rest of the stories, particularly Esme's.Here's what ultimately kept me from giving this book a 5:- The scandal in Simon's family: supposedly the main reason Simon is such a model of propriety was to repair his family's reputation. It was mentioned many times in the book that his parents were the image of scandal because they were promiscuous, etc. I didn't feel like enough of a background was given on that, and I didn't think that was a good enough reason. The aristocracy commonly had lovers on the side, so even if it wasn't socially acceptable, it was far from uncommon, and the high status of Simon's ducal family wouldn't (and really wasn't) ostracized from society for that. Furthermore, Simon's mother was so loveable in the scene in which she did appear. She's not your typical cold, steel-butterfly Duchess, but the image the reader has of her from what we see is not the image that Simon presented to us at all. There's a disconnect there, and I would have liked more of an explanation.- The portrayal of the antagonists: I would have liked to see a little more depth given to the bad guys. Furthermore, I felt that Georgina was a little bit tropey as the perfectly beautiful, deviously mercenary socialite out for Simon's title. I know she was one of the difficulties between Simon & Sarah's relationship, but it would have been nice for Georgina to have a little more dimension and vulnerability than how she is written.- The wrap-up: I will not spoil the book, but ultimately the book's ending fell flat for me. The climax, the dénouement just wasn't there. It was a beautiful story that ended predictably and unsatisfactorily in some parts.