Thursday, July 30, 2020

Vanessa Riley's multicultural Regency romance A Duke, the Lady, and a Baby

In the author’s notes at the end of her lively new historical romance, Vanessa Riley reveals that England was the home to at least ten thousand people of Black or mixed-race ancestry during Jane Austen’s time. Regency romances typically feature love stories between members of the white aristocracy. Fortunately, a growing number of writers have been creating characters representing the diversity among the English populace at the time.

This first book in the Rogues and Remarkable Women series introduces Patience Amelia Jordan, former Duchess of Repington, a courageous young heiress originally from Demerara in the West Indies (now part of Guyana). Ever since her husband Colin’s suicide, Patience has been treated abominably by Colin’s uncle, who had her thrown into Bedlam for a trumped-up reason.

Now she’s forced to sneak into her marital home, Hamlin Hall, disguised as a groom in order to feed and watch over her son, Lionel. Then the new Duke, Busick Strathmore, arrives to take up his position and Lionel’s guardianship, starting afresh by dismissing all his predecessor’s staff. With the support of the Widow’s Grace, a group of widows helping her regain custody of her child, Patience becomes Lionel’s wet nurse and nanny while seeking evidence about the true nature of Colin’s financial dealings and mysterious death. Over time, Patience and the Duke form a tentative alliance that turns flirtatious and develops into love.

Their connection may seem subdued and cerebral, at first, when compared with other romance novels. However, I found Riley’s style of subtle, character-driven love story a refreshing change. Repington is a wounded soldier who had lost his leg during the Siege of Badajoz and, while adjusting to his new situation, plans his return to the battlefield. He quickly comes to love Lionel, though as a military man, his child-rearing methods are amusingly rigid.

Patience is a loving mother who wants only to return to her island with Lionel, but the Duke may change her mind. Riley also draws on elements of Patience’s cultural heritage to illustrate who she is. I particularly liked the scenes in which she debates praying to the Demararan god of protection but wasn’t sure if he had any control over what happened in England, and another where she dons a traditional, marigold-colored dress that her beloved late mother crafted. I did wonder why the Duke didn’t uncover Patience’s real identity sooner, and the shifts between Patience’s first-person viewpoint and the Duke’s third-person perspective feel unnecessarily distancing. Overall, though, I enjoyed this romance between two courageous, kind people, both outsiders in different ways, who genuinely respect each other. Patience’s marriage with Colin seemed a bit shaky, but I sense that her new relationship will endure.

And as for “Busick” – it’s not a traditional romance name, but it fits the period. (For example, Sir Busick Harwood was a well-known English physician who died in 1814, the year this novel takes place).

A Duke, the Lady, and a Baby was published by Kensington on June 30 (I read it from a NetGalley copy).


  1. I am curious that there does seem to be a trend towards this kind of cover for historical romance novels.

  2. I've been seeing that too. I like the style better than the clinch covers, but am not a big fan of the bright colors either.