Romance Review: The Duke Who Didn’t

The Duke Who Didn’t, by Courtney Milan

I received an ARC of this book in exchange for an honest review.

This delightful, low-angst romance came along at the perfect time for me, just when I needed an uplifting story with a triumphant ending.

Courtney Milan’s new Wedgeford Trials series takes place in a small English village with a diverse, close-knit population. The Wedgeford rule is not to pry into the pasts or ancestry of its inhabitants, which makes the town a safe, welcoming space. The town has also been favored by the “benign neglect” of the duke who owns it: nobody has paid rent in decades.

But the Duke of Lansing, also known as Jeremy Yu, aka Jeremy Wentworth (nicknamed “Posh Jim” by the townspeople) has indeed been visiting the town for years, during an annual competition known as the Trials. Nobody knows he’s the duke they all keep laughing at, and he’s happy to keep it that way.

While Jeremy initially came to Wedgeford for the Trials, eventually he kept returning because of Chloe Fong, the ultra-organized daughter of a supremely talented cook who had been cheated out of a sauce recipe. Mr. Fong is determined to get revenge on the Englishmen who left him destitute with a young daughter before he made his way to Wedgeford; and Chloe is only too happy to help him succeed by making sure their new formula is a success at this year’s Trials. In the process, she must navigate her feelings for Jeremy, who has returned this year after missing several Trials, and who seems determined to win her over.

There’s so much to love about this story, starting with the way it includes the diversity that’s still missing from most historical romance novels. Different ethnic communities were very much a part of English society in the nineteenth century (and earlier), and it’s important to acknowledge their presence instead of pretending that all of Britain was lily white. And this novel presents a variety of identities: Jeremy is English-born and biracial, Chloe is second-generation Chinese-English, her parents having immigrated decades earlier. All of them face being considered second-class citizens and treated with a mixture of paternalism and suspicion (Jeremy’s story about his classics degree is especially enlightening). But Wedgeford is their haven, and they’re mostly able to keep society’s scorn at bay.

Chloe, my dear, I am half-Chinese. Being wealthy does not stop me from being half-Chinese. My wealthy neighbors will always know that I am half-Chinese.

I also loved Chloe, with her love of lists, devotion to her family, and her perfectionist streak. Part of her own journey involves learning to delegate and let others take burdens on for her, which is something so relatable for many women. When she finally does put her own needs first, it’s a glorious moment of pleasure and self-realization. It also takes place during a hilarious shout-out to the beloved “only one room available” romance trope.

Finally, the food-related sections alone in this book are priceless. By the time I was on the second chapter, I had to get up to have a snack, thanks to the mouthwatering descriptions of Mr. Fong’s cooking. Courtney Milan has created a food glossary with recipes from the book on her website, so be sure to check that out if you found the culinary aspect of this book as intriguing as I did.

In short, you’ll love The Duke Who Didn’t if you’re looking for a funny, sweet romance that nevertheless takes a hard look at the true nature of nineteenth-century English society, especially in the context of colonialism. Chloe and Jeremy complement and uplift each other beautifully, and their interactions are often hilarious, but also heartfelt and very hot. Treat yourself to this yummy love story, and then go cook something delicious! I can’t wait to see what the next installment of this series brings.

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