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This was an ARC from NetGalley.
Who Wants to Marry a Duke is the third title in Sabrina Jeffries’ delightfully-named Duke Dynasty series; the two previous books are Duchess Project and The Bachelor (which does, in fact, involve a rose being handed out at one point). I mention this because, although the romance for each novel in the series is standalone, there is also a murder mystery that spans all three books; in fact, the mystery remains unsolved by the end of this latest installment, and will continue in next year’s Undercover Duke. So it’s something to keep in mind if you prefer all plot ends neatly tied at the end of a novel.
This novel has some of my favorite tropes: enemies to lovers, huge misunderstandings, secret identities, lots of groveling, and a kickass scientist heroine. Miss Olivia Norley is an aspiring chemist, who first meets Thornstock (or Thorn, as everyone calls him) a decade before the main plot of the book. In that instance, she had assisted Thorn in removing a wine stain from his waistcoat after he had crashed into her during a ball. The result of her well-meaning offer to help is a kiss… and being discovered in that compromising position by Lady Norley, her stepmother, who blackmails Thorn into offering marriage to Olivia. Olivia refuses the proposal when Thorn visits her the following morning, and he leaves feeling inexplicably angry, considering he hadn’t wanted the marriage in the first place. He’s twenty-one, and only recently arrived in England from spending his youth in Berlin.
Ten years later, he runs into Olivia at another ball, and finds out she has been hired by his half-brother Grey to help investigate the possible poisoning of Grey’s father. Thorn, who still believes Olivia was involved in trying to trap him into marriage, immediately suspects ulterior motives, and sets to following her as she proceeds with chemical experiments to determine if there was arsenic poisoning involved.
My favorite aspect of Olivia and Thorn’s story was seeing his respect for her grow as she conducts her research. He goes from calling her love of chemistry a “hobby” or “parlor trick” to supporting her in her work. Thorn himself understands what it means to have a strong passion for work, since he’s been secretly writing plays for several years, and having a poet friend claim them for his own; as reckless of society’s rules as Thorn often seems to be, even he knows that dukes cannot be making money off plays.
As for Olivia, I enjoyed the way her mind works, and how she sees the world around her, because they appeal to my own neurodivergent brain:
Olivia’s difficulties in understanding social nuances and innuendo make her an outcast of sorts in the high society circles she must move in. Unfortunately, they also make her vulnerable to Thorn’s behavior towards her, and this comes to a head when she discovers that he is the author of her favorite plays… and that one of the comic characters everyone laughs at is based on how he had perceived her a decade earlier. Thorn’s challenge is to be as honest and direct as Olivia needs in order to gain her trust.
My only complaint with Olivia is that, as well versed in science as she is, she’s apparently mostly ignorant about human anatomy (and if you’ve guessed that this takes place during a love scene, you would be correct). It just doesn’t seem to fit with her character, especially given that she’s performing her arsenic experiments on human remains.
Otherwise, this is a delightful novel. I do recommend reading the previous two as well, since they also have great characters and will help better understand the mystery arc. And I can’t wait to see Sheridan’s story, and hopefully the unravelling of the murders, in the next book.