By Lenora Bell
Publication Date: September 28, 2021
Series or Standalone: Wallflowers vs. Rogues
Links: Amazon – Barnes & Noble – Goodreads
I’ve been waffling on how to rate this book since I finished reading it. I really wanted to like this as the premise sounded amazing, but unfortunately, a few things didn’t click for me. Much like Hetty’s wines, I felt like this book needed to sit and develop a bit more to deliver on the flavors I was looking for.
After her mother’s death, Lady Henrietta Prince’s focus has been on reviving her family’s vineyards and restoring the reputation of English wines. Her father, the Duke of Granville, unexpectedly gets left without any heirs. To keep Rosehill, the family estate, in the family, Hetty throws a ball for her father to pick out his new duchess. At that ball, Hetty shares a kiss with a handsome stranger…who claims he’s a distant long-lost heir to the dukedom. The handsome stranger, Ash Ellis, is a gambler and his scheme to become Granville’s heir is his biggest gamble to date. However, when the two are forced to marry, they must put aside their animosity towards each other if they wish to achieve their individual goals.
I really liked the idea of this book. The premise had a lot of promise as it’s a blend of a marriage of convenience with a bit of enemies-to-lovers, plus you get a seemingly strong, independent character with Hetty. I’m also a sucker for main characters who run gaming clubs, so Ash checks that box. However, as a romance novel, the book hinges on the chemistry between the main characters, and unfortunately, I found that chemistry was missing.
I didn’t see any sparks between Ash and Hetty, whether that be romantic sparks or “I hate you” sparks. In their first encounter, I found Ash coming on to Hetty way too strong, and it was giving me “you’re trying too hard” vibes. Their first kiss felt like it was happening more to drive the plot forward than because of any attraction between the two. I think the romance developed a bit more as they spent more time together, but I don’t think it ever grew into a full flame. When they both started to feel like they loved each other, it felt like it was coming out of nowhere as I just didn’t see any sort of connection between them. It’s always tough to like a historical romance novel when you don’t see the characters feel any desire for each other.
While the chemistry between Ash and Hetty wasn’t there, I will say I liked them separately as characters. I just don’t think they work together romantically. Hetty is a more unconventional female lead – something that I’ve come to expect from Bell’s work. I also love how passionate she was about winemaking and devoted to the craft. It’s not a passing fancy but something she views as her profession. Ash was an interesting character. He’s pulling a con on Hetty and her father, but he’s doing it for a good reason as he was to gain more power to advocate for ending child labor in factories. I will say, I think the moniker of the “Devil’s Own Scoundrel” didn’t really fit him for me. Sure, he thinks he did a terrible thing in the past, but he acted in self-defense and all his actions were driven by his desire to help others.
Outside of Hetty and Ash, we see many Bell’s previous characters in various scenes, which is always a fun easter egg for her readers. I will say, I truly disliked Hetty’s father. That man is the worst and didn’t care one whit for his daughter. He was incredibly self-centered and thought only of himself. On the flip side, I did love the inclusion of both Hetty and Ash’s cats into the story. Lucifer (aka Lucy) and Bacchus were great additions to the tale, and I loved how the cats were the opposite personality of their owners. It was a nice bit of mirroring as Lucy more closely resembled the image of Hetty in Ash’s head initially and vice versa with Bacchus and Ash. I found that pretty clever.
In terms of the plot, I wasn’t super impressed by it. The marriage of convenience storyline worked okay for me, and I enjoyed the plot focused on Hetty winning accolades for her wine. I will say on the wine plot that the conclusion felt a little too fairytale-like for me. It seemed everything came together too perfectly. Meanwhile, the storyline with Ash and Coakley felt like it was just there to add a bit more drama, but the drama it brought was very short-lived, so it didn’t feel like it did enough for me to justify being such a focus of the story. I almost feel like the plot was a bit half-baked and could have used a little more development to make all the pieces work together.
Outside of that, I sometimes found some scenes repetitive as we get Hetty or Ash recounting actions that literally just happened to a different group of people. There were also a few scenes that I wasn’t sure why they were in the book. The biggest one was the visit to the local village and the missing kid. That didn’t add enough to the story or to Hetty or Ash’s character development to warrant the number of pages it got.
I’m so sad this book didn’t work out as well as I had hoped. When it comes to Bell’s work, I feel like I really enjoy her stuff 9 times out of 10. However, it seems like in every series of hers, there is always one book that just doesn’t work for me. I think The Devil’s Own Duke is that book in the Wallflowers vs. Rogues series.
I can definitely see some people loving this book, but the lack of chemistry between the leads hampered my enjoyment of the story. Luckily, it’s a pretty quick read, so it’s worth giving it a go if you’re on the fence about it. And if you want to check out a Lenora Bell book that I think is great, check out For Duke’s Eyes Only. That is one of my favorites of hers and is such a fun twist on Indiana Jones!
Thank you to Avon/Netgalley for the ARC. All thoughts, ideas and opinions expressed in this review are my own.