I’m not going to lie to you all – I’m not always the biggest fan of historical fiction. Every now and then, I will dabble into it. This month’s Book of the Month pick was one of the first historical fiction novels I read in a while. That novel is Bringing Down the Duke by Evie Dunmore, which is the first novel in the League of Extraordinary Women Series. It is Dunmore’s first novel.
It is England 1879, and Oxford is at least allowing women to attend classes. Annabelle Archer leaves her cousin’s responsibilities behind to become a student and a suffragist. During one of her outings in the attempts of recruiting men to her side, she finds herself face to face with the Duke of Montgomery. However, the meeting doesn’t go well.
Annabelle falls ill, and is forced to spend her holidays at Sebastian’s castle. The two begin to develop a Mr. Darcy/Elizabeth Bennett style relationship, and soon fall in love. They soon face a predicament that is greater than creating a law – which may change their course forever.
I loved this book. As I mentioned earlier, the relationship between Annabelle and Sebastian reminded me so much like the relationship between Elizabeth Bennett and Mr. Darcy in Pride and Prejudice. This novel has quite a bit of similarities to that classic. For instance, there are themes of class — and different classes.
However, there is an additional theme of feminism in this book. I mean, the reason why Annabelle met the Duke in the first place was because she was getting support in the attempts to abolish the English Marriage Law of 1870, which was basically a woman losing all of her assets when she got married to her husband. The concept? What’s the husband’s is the wife’s.
It’s kind of crazy to see how things were for women back then and how little rights that they had. I mean, when the novel began, Annabelle was going to Oxford, and was one of the first women to be allowed to attend. To me, that’s crazy. But, the reality is sadly that’s how it was.
With that being said, I want to move on to discuss the relationship between the Duke and Annabelle. In the late 1800s, I get it. It is a completely different time from the way relationships are today. Back then, you have things such as social class and standards thrown in. For instance, if you’re not pure or from a certain social class, you’re deemed as damaged goods. And, if you’re over 20 and divorced, you might as well forget it.
Reading this made me frustrated, but then again, that’s how it was.
You see that a lot in the relationship between Annabelle and the Duke. For a good chunk of the book, the Duke said that he’s unable to be with Annabelle because of who he is expected to marry as a Duke. Which is completely awful, but that’s a sign of the times. He wanted to draw a relationship contract with her, which Annabelle declined (good for you Annabelle).
However, I can’t help but notice that the two have a relationship that mirrors Mr. Darcy and Elizabeth Bennett. At the beginning, the two can’t stand each other. Of course, that changes throughout the book. But, seeing that displayed made this book a romance that I could not put down.
Overall, while I am not a huge fan of historical fiction, this novel served up a delicious romance that makes me excited for the sequel.