[An] unabashedly feminist exploration of power and how it ties in with identity and desire. … Dark, daring, delicious, and absolutely delightful.
—Kirkus Reviews (starred review)
“MacLean reinforces her place as a master of historical romance … gloriously insightful characterization, grandly entertaining plotting, and gorgeously sensual prose.”
“…A locomotive from the start that keeps gaining steam and barreling forward to the heart-breaking, heart-mending end.”
—Kennedy Ryan, USA Today bestselling Author
Sarah MacLean’s Daring and the Duke (Avon) is the last book in her Bareknuckle Bastards series and focuses on 19th century London’s “seedy underbelly” through main characters Grace and Ewan. This highly anticipated romance touches on more than just love. It explores women’s roles in the patriarchy, defines the concept of dukedom, and shows how close (and yet how far) the rich and the poor are from each other.
If you’re new to the series, the Bareknuckle Bastards are sons and a daughter of the old Duke of Marwick. Because the Duke’s only true heir is a girl (and can’t be duke), the Duke brings his three illegitimate sons from lower-class Covent Gardens to his estate and pits them against each other for the title, with the losers slated for death. The siblings, however, don’t know that. They grow close, the boys linked by blood, all of them linked by secrets and circumstance.
In the end, Ewan becomes duke, and the others, Grace, Whit (the Beast) and Devil (Devon) barely escape with their lives. The three survivors head to Covent Gardens, growing up in its gritty streets becoming bareknuckle child street fighters to earn money. Book one showcases Devon — better known as Devil, while book two’s focus is Whit — nicknamed the Beast. This book highlights Grace, known now as Dahlia—the queen of Covent Gardens.
Having prevailed in the child street-fighting rings, Dahlia is now the owner of a women’s pleasure club, one of the most popular in London, with many women of the aristocracy on its membership rolls. The club scenes and interactions are fascinating, showing the reader a world that they may have never seen before — one where sex work is decriminalized, and women enjoyed brothels as much as men. While Dahlia and her club are fiction, this era — just before Queen Victoria’s reign — and the fact that these women’s clubs existed is historically accurate. It also shows how resourceful women had to be (and still have to be) just to live in a strictly patriarchal society. The fact that Dahlia mastered traveling by rooftops and led the finest spy network in London is no coincidence.
But when Ewan shows up twenty years after the thrown-together group split, it brings up all kinds of loose ends. There are questions to be answered, wrongs Ewan has to atone for, and ultimately thwarted love and broken promises of a future together.
As kids, Ewan vowed to make his step-sister Grace his duchess once he became duke. Now that Grace has grown into Dahlia, she wants nothing to do with dukedom — which Ewan technically stole from her. What used to represent money and freedom for all of them, now is the worst thing that could happen to any of them. But being a duke cannot diminish the connection and attraction Ewan and Grace have for each other.
Daring and the Duke is full of action, loaded with spectacle and steaming with rekindled love between its hero and heroine. Arguably the best of the Bareknuckle Bastards series, this historical romance is one exciting page-turner.