Four Dukes. Four spirited heroines. At Christmas-time!
The anthology How the Dukes Stole Christmas—with novellas written by Tessa Dare, Sarah MacLean, Sophie Jordan, and Joanna Shupe—releases today, and it’s a scrumptious, perfectly packaged morsel that makes even this (gestures to self) rabid fall enthusiast look forward to the holiday season with no small degree of anticipation.
Themes of this sigh-inducing collection include the heartwarming appeal of Christmas-time; portrayals of female empowerment—which sometimes includes teaching a grumpy, work-focused duke an important lesson or two; and shortbread.
Tessa Dare's Meet Me In Mayfair
Dare’s unexpectedly sweet novella begins with Louisa Ward’s goal of attracting a husband candidate that night so that she can save her family and herself from being evicted from their Mayfair home. Enter James, the Duke of Thorndale, and also the man responsible for their eviction notice. Will James be the answer to Louisa’s prayers in more ways than one, or will her goal come between them?
As a rule, I’m often drawn to Dare’s characters most when there’s a knowingness, a maturity to them. In this novella I encountered the softer side of Dare's repertoire, even if her heroine, Louisa, is still unconventional enough to challenge the duke's positions on women and to take him on a solitary tour of Mayfair on a winter's night. It's this combination that makes this novella so winning: for all the attraction between Louisa and James, there’s still an innocence to their relationship and this novella that is surprising, and on some level, refreshing, particularly when you remember that most of the story takes place over one intoxicating night.
Sarah MacLean's The Duke of Christmas Present
Sarah MacLean follows with this juggernaut of a novella that’s fueled by regret, guilt, and yearning and that hits with all the force associated with a master of her craft. Second-chance romance aficionados rejoice: this novella begins with a drunk Eben James, Duke of Allryd, coming face to face with a ghost from his past: Lady Jacqueline Mosby, the woman he was once affianced to, and who left him twelve years ago, after he became duke and set out to resuscitate his estate. Mosby has been traveling since then, and she’s leaving again soon. Twelve years, a fiancé, and more, lies between them. But is their love story over?
MacLean writes intensely—the yearning between Eben and Jack, as he calls her, is palpable—but for all that, her stories never feel bogged down or burdened with it. In this novella, MacLean deftly brushes the dust from their past and highlights the complexities of love; how sometimes being in love doesn’t automatically lead to a HEA, like for young adult Eben and Jack, but that love can lead people back to one another, if they’re willing to cover the necessary ground.
Sophie Jordan's Heiress Alone
Annis Ballister’s first meeting with Calder, Duke Sinclair is not the auspicious beginning we might hope for. She’s sprawled at his disdainful feet after being shoved there by her not-quite-so-adoring sisters. But luckily for us, they’re brought back together because (1) Annis’s delightful family accidentally leaves without her, (2), a violent band of thieves is roaming the area, and (3), Calder insists that she and her two servants return to his home with him for their safety. Annis and Calder didn’t have the best first impression of the other, and while Calder is reluctantly attracted to Annis, her plans for her future also stand between them. Will Calder and Annis succumb to their attraction and is that enough to bring two people—who at the novella's outset, want different things—together?
Though the beginning of Jordan’s novella is a bit cringe-worthy, Annis wins the reader over with her dignity and strength, and these qualities, along with the passion blazing beneath her placid exterior, are attractive to Calder, too. Heiress Alone is dramatic and sensual, and the attraction between these two characters propels the novella to its very satisfying ending.
Joanna Shupe's Christmas in Central Park
We move from the wilds of Scotland to a frenetic newsroom in New York City in the final novella, Joanna Shupe’s Christmas in Central Park. Mrs. Rose Walker is a wealthy, married domestic expert who dispenses advice for the readers of the New York Daily Gazette. In actuality, she’s Miss Rose Walker, an unmarried writer who gets her advice from her servant mother and the fellow servants she grew up with. Unfortunately for her, the president of the publishing empire associated with her paper, Duke Havermeyer III, just had to clean house after a lying scandal and demands that his most popular writer, Mrs. Rose Walker, host a party for members of the board to get him back in the board’s good graces. What could possibly go wrong?
Rose is supremely competent and assured, and a large part of her appeal is that she gets things done. She operates with ingenuity and aplomb, circumventing the constraints put upon her by society—and by Duke himself—admirably. Duke’s unwitting battle with a master strategist is a joy and a delight, and it’s enhanced by the truly explosive chemistry between them.
How the Dukes Stole Christmas is a lovely collection of Happily Ever Afters, all centered around the magic of Christmas—how it invites us to self-reflection and offers opportunities to re-assess our priorities and to redeem ourselves from the things we’ve let hold us back.
But it’s more than that, too. It’s a collection frequently featuring characters we don’t traditionally get to hear from in historical romances written by white women—servants, and in the case of Sarah MacLean’s novella, a very successful black businessman—who intervene in critical ways, and who inspire our main characters to be their best selves.
And, of course, it’s a collection centered around strong, fierce women who speak their minds, pursue their dreams, and move through their novellas with authority, even when they’re facing challenges outside of their control--and that's always sexy to me.
**I received an ARC of this anthology from the authors, but all opinions provided are my own.
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