Get past the title.
In the latest Loretta Chase book we are faced with the problem of beauty. I like to call it the Liz Taylor syndrome. I've talked about this before and the reality is that most of us can't
work up that much sympathy for beautiful people, but I would imagine that some people who are knock dead gorgeous do have a not-worthy complex. Although their lives might seem to be perfect to an outsider, they want to be viewed as more than just this perfectly beautiful person. They probably also have a tendency to not trust people who they befriend. I'm sure a lot of "why is this person my friend" might creep into their thoughts. If your outside beauty is all that is talked about, I'm sure it would have some kind of effect on what you are as a person. I would also think that when great beauties age, they would feel even more alone because now they are losing the one thing that drew people to them. Anyway, we have a great beauty in this book, Lady Clara Fairfax, and she wants to be more than just a pretty face. Which is why she is involved in a charity which helps young women find meaningful employment. Given the time period this couldn't have been all that easy. This story reminded me a little of Oliver Twist, it had the feel of the stews of London. Even some of the shady characters in this story were reminiscent of Fagin, Artful Dodger and Bill Sykes. Ms. Chase did a fine job of presenting us with some of the more gritty elements of the brutal dark side of London's underbelly. There were some pretty memorable secondary characters in this story which Ms. Chase chose to leave behind in that dark place. I thought it was an interesting path to go down and I was grateful that there wasn't a butterfly-bird chirping ending for some of the supporting cast in this story.
Then we have Raven Radford, a barrister, who is trying to clean up some of the criminals in London. One of those criminals being Jacob Freame, the same one Clara is trying to rescue a young boy by the name of Toby Coppy from. She comes to Radford hoping he will help her in locating Toby, Radford turns her down. However, that doesn't deter Clara from making herself into one of the biggest pest Radford has ever encountered. Clara has made a promise to Bridget Coppy. Clara is determined that she will find Bridget’s young brother. Nothing is going to stand in Clara’s way, especially an obnoxious barrister.
Dukes Prefer Blondes could be divided into two stories. The first one is mostly Clara and Radford seeing who can come up with the most zingers. They have strong chemistry, they are clever and their dialog is pretty entertaining. The first half is a wonderful tug of war between Clara and Radford. Then they marry. The feel of the story changes. We now have a romance couple who are married before the end of the story. Ms. Chase invites us in to view our couple struggling to make their marriage work. Thrown into the mix of two newly married people who must learn to give and take is a big outside force. That outside force is Radford's sudden elevation as heir to a Dukedom - something he never wanted. He likes being a barrister, and is disheartened to learn that he will have to give up his career to eventually become a Duke. He isn't a happy camper. Clara on the other hand has been trained since childhood to fill the role of a Duchess and she is there to give him the support he needs along with a few suggestion on how he can have everything he wants.
This may not reach the perfection of Ms. Chase's classic Lord of Scoundrels - silly, nothing will ever reach that height. But, Dukes Prefer Blondes is a very entertaining story with a delightful couple. Clara and Radford are more than just a couple who are good at funny repartee, there is also a great deal of growing together, of learning how to give, and how best to support each other. This is one HEA which rings true.
Time/Place: 1830s England
PS: For your edification a 13-year old Ava Gardner and a 14-year old Liz Taylor.