David: Lord of Honor by Grace Burrowes

Overall

After three books of David Worthington weaving in and out of the lives of our heroes and heroines, it’s time for his story though, to be honest, we don’t really learn anything more about him than we’ve already learned in Gareth, Andrew, and Douglas. He grew up with modest means with an aunt, not with his mother. He was the legitimate heir to his father’s title and estate, but kept mum to protect his father’s second marriage and the daughters of that union, Felicity and Astrid. We also already knew he’d had medical training and had been married before.

In David, we learn his marriage was unhappy (nearly all first marriages in a romance novel are) and that he loved his daughter, who died shortly after birth. He took over the brothel that Felicity inherited in Gareth and has been running it since. His man of business, Thomas Jennings, tells him that his brother-in-law’s former mistress, Letty Banks, seems to be unwell, and encourages David to check in on her. He discovers that, despite money left to her by Herbert Allen, she’s living in a nearly impoverished state. He asks her to come work at the brothel as a madam.

I quite like Letty, but I’m not entirely sure about David. He carries himself as someone who respects women but he’s one of those guys who just carries around his male privilege without being aware with it. Letty has to call him out on being a dick several times and I’m not sure that David ever really gets it. But he’s not perfect, and there’s something to be said for that.

There’s the usual cast of supporting characters, including a lot of Douglas from the previous book. One of my pet peeves in reading series that, occasionally, an author shoves in previous characters without much narrative purpose (see: Jennifer Ashley & the Mackenzie series) but Burrowes does a really good job of showing us the friendship between these characters. David has built a family that he relies on heavily and having read Douglas, I buy the deep affection he and Douglas have for one another.

There’s also a lot of the Windhams here — Valentine plays a large supporting role that I’m not entirely sure is earned. He and Letty appear to be friendly (to the point Valentine seems a bit in love with her) but a lot of it happens off page so it makes some of the confidences Letty and David share with Val later seem a bit unrealistic. We’re also introduced to Daniel, Letty’s brother, and to Ellen FitzEngle, who will be appearing later. I’d quite forgotten that Val’s book had a back story that began here, so it’s going to be a lot of fun to revisit Little Weldon in The Virtuoso.

It’s a good book but I think it suffers just a bit from being overstuffed with extra characters and little plot. David and Letty only have one obstacle — she refuses to marry him and honestly, we’re kept out of her reasoning for far too long. But it’s not a bad read.

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Douglas: Lord of Heartache by Grace Burrowes

Overall

When I read this book back in 2014, I was relieved because finally, here was the backstory heavily alluded to in The Heir. The Heir is one of my favorite Burrowes books, and I’m really excited to get to it in this reread because I’m finally reading everything in chronological order which means the Douglas and Gwen scenes as well as Westhaven’s relationship with his family, particularly his father, is going to be that much more rich and nuanced.

Getting that out of the way, I can’t decide if I like this book. It’s a really good read right up until the end where things get…weird. We met Gwen and Douglas in the previous entry, Andrew. Gwen is the unmarried cousin of Andrew and Gareth Alexander who was apparently able to hide her illegitimate daughter, Rose, from the rest of her family for four years. Douglas is the survivor of the Allen family in Andrew, middle son sandwiched between shitty Herbert and crazy murderer Henry. Douglas is trying to get himself back together after the events of that book and asks Gwen for assistance with an estate purchase since she has made her own estate relatively profitable.

Douglas is a beta hero—with the exception of one scene that I’m not really all that fond of at the end—who doesn’t really take over the story or push Gwen (even when maybe he should). He’s also in the midst of a low-grade depression, thinking that he doesn’t deserve Gwen or really anything nice. Normally this kind of wallowing drives me nuts, but it’s been maybe a year or so since he learned that his youngest brother murdered their elder brother and father, and the elder brother was a giant asshole who stole from his wife’s widow’s portion and beggared the family. He doesn’t feel that awesome about his DNA and it’s hard to blame him.

Gwen is a bit more difficult to pin down — in the previous book as well as for a lot of this book, the men in her family (Andrew, Gareth and their brother-in-law and future hero, David) assume that her reticence to bring Rose or herself into the world means she must have been raped. No one asks her because it’s just not the thing to do at this point. Even Douglas assumes this. I think it’s important to remind myself that Gwen literally never says this to any of them at any point because it helps me kind of understand some of the things that happen later. She never tells any of them outright exactly what happened or tells them it was rape.

For the most part, my feelings about this book is that it's a lot like the last two books — it has a relatively sweet and believable romance, but the other part of the plot is less great. I mean, it’s serviceable and does what it needs to do. In many ways, this book is doing a lot of heavy lifting. Not only are we preparing for David to get his own book (after appearing in all three books thus far), but it also introduces Loris Tanner, who will come back as a heroine in another series entirely, and introduces the Windham family with whom we will spend about eight or nine books with. Considering everything this book does for the universe, it’s actually pretty good.

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Andrew: Lord of Despair by Grace Burrowes

A Note

According to her website, by the time Grace Burrowes was first published, she’d written a lot of books already. Apparently, her agent/publisher sorted through her manuscripts and picked out the Windham trilogy beginning with The Heir as a starting place. Those books are good and they show off her talent, but man, does it mess with the chronology of the series which we’ll talk about when I get to The Heir.

It also makes it difficult to get through the Lonely Lords series of which many were written prior to her Windham novels (the trilogy about the brothers followed by the quintet of sisters). These books are just not as good as the Windhams. Her writing style and everything I love about her is present, but the plotting and character work just isn’t as well done. Reading Gareth and Andrew halfway through the Lonely Lords, nearly fifteen books into her publishing career, doesn’t work.

It also doesn’t work because there are things in The Heir that are soooo much better once you’ve read this book and its follow-up, Douglas. I think we’ve finally exhausted material Grace Burrowes hadn’t published already which is a relief. Her universe is intricately connected which is lovely, but because they were written chronologically and published wildly out of order, it makes it more difficult to appreciate the way they build upon each other. If they had been written out of order, there wouldn’t be nearly as much interplay between the characters and callbacks.

Anyway, that’s just mostly to say that I liked Andrew more with the realization that this is Grace Burrowes at the beginning of career, not several years in and this is a theme we’re going to come to for most of this reread. I understand the decision not to publish them in order, but I definitely don’t agree with it in a lot of respects.

Back to the Book - Overall Impressions

Because Andrew and Gareth’s characters are both motivated by the same backstory, it’s not surprising they both follow the same basic linear plot. Tortured by a drowning incident that destroyed most of the male members of the succession, the Alexander brothers have both decided they are not worthy of love and the Worthington sisters tempt them into forgiving themselves.

That’s it. That’s the romantic throughline in both books. There are subplots that differentiate them both, but not wildly. So all that matters here is asking ourselves is Andrew a better book than Gareth, and if so, why?

So it is a better book and that’s because Andrew’s role in the backstory (he was on the boat, rescued his mother, but no one else) is a bit more understandable than Gareth’s overwrought survivor’s guilt. There are still oddities we’ll get into during the spoilers, but I found Andrew to be a more convincing martyr-hero than Gareth.

Astrid is fine. She doesn’t really do much, to be honest, and I find her a little less interesting than Felicity, but not in a bad way. Their romance is also fine as is the subplot about her first husband’s family maybe trying to kill her and/or the unborn child she’s carrying.

This book is important to the next few in the series — it plants the seeds for both David and Douglas, who both appear here. It also even sets up the Windham brothers trilogy. It’s also a decent romance with an interesting hero and mystery. It’s not perfect, but it’s pretty good.

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Gareth: Lord of Rakes by Grace Burrowes

Overall

I started this book a week ago and found myself remembering exactly why I’ve only read this book all the way through exactly once. I was never all that fond of the premise, and the beginning of the book is excruciatingly slow. But I decided to persevere to get into the rest of the series and get this universe reread off the ground.

Felicity Worthington is the daughter of a viscount who died and didn’t make any arrangements for either Felicity or her younger sister, Astrid. A cousin leaves Felicity her brothel with specific instructions as to how she’ll inherit the business and property—allowing Gareth Alexander, the notorious Marquess of Alexander, to tutor her in the ways of the business which will include a written and possible physical examination to ensure the loss of her virginity.

Yeah, it’s kind of a weird premise and according to her official site, this book is Grace Burrowes’ first foray in romance writing. This makes sense. There’s not much of a plot for the first fifty pages which does make this book excruciating to get into, and I nearly abandoned it myself despite having already finished it once.

But then it gets going, and the romance is a bit sweet even if Gareth’s tragic backstory doesn’t quite measure up to what we think it will. There’s a nice cast of supporting characters, particularly Andrew and Astrid, whom we’ll see in the next book.

What makes this book enjoyable is the emotional vulnerability and honesty these characters possess by about 75% of the way through the book. I like a conflict where the thing that prevents the characters from being together is something internal to them—something they believe to be true about themselves or their situation that is incompatible for the Happily Ever After.

It’s a slow, and at times, painful read, but the seeds of what I love about Grace Burrowes are present by the end of the book and they show up full force in the second one. It’s worth reading and not giving up after the beginning.

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The Duke and His Duchess – Grace Burrowes

Overall

One of my absolutely favorite tropes to read is a couple who is already married and working towards their happily ever after. I know there are some readers and reviewers out there who think a marriage before the end of the book somehow ruins the tension of the book, but I’ve never seen it that way. We’re in the historical romance genre, and if your characters are heterosexual, there’s like a 99.88% chance they’ll get married, so why does it matter when it happens?

I mentioned in the review for The Courtship that the biggest aspect of the Percy/Esther relationship I was eager to read more about was the manner in which Percy’s illegitimate children came to live with the household and was raised as one of the Windham children. The Duke and His Duchess purports to tell that story.

I like this novella a lot less than the first one mostly because I feel like this is the wrong space to tell the story Grace Burrowes had in mind. She not only wants to address the presence of Devon and Maggie, but also a larger problem within the Windham marriage as Percy and Esther await the inevitable death of not only his father, but his perpetually ill elder brother. There’s a dark cloud over everyone in this book, but Burrowes wasn’t interested in this part of the story or doing anything with the world she set up back at Morelands.

I found myself frustrated with Percy and Esther for a few reasons I’ll get into in the spoilers section, but there was just too much plot for so little space and none of the stories were told with the capability I expect from Grace Burrowes. But this novella does what it sets out to do and explains why Devon and Maggie have been raised as part of the legitimate household. It’s fine, but honestly, you probably don’t need to read it more than once.

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The Courtship by Grace Burrowes

Overall

Novellas are rarely my cup of tea. I’m not a huge fan of the short romances because, ninety percent of the time, the author not only writes the romance but also tries to fit in a subplot with a mystery or an external villain trying to play as an antagonist. That’s a lot to ask of a shorter story, particularly if the two leads have not yet met. Something always gets short-changed.

In this case, I also remember that I didn’t read The Courtship when it was released because I simply wasn’t overly interested in the relationship between Percy and Esther, the parents of the eight Windham siblings. Then, Grace Burrowes released The Duke and His Duchess which sought to provide back story as to how Their Graces came to raise Percy’s two illegitimate children alongside their legitimate ones. I wanted to read that story, so I kind of felt obligated to read the first novella. I’m glad I did.

Percival Windham, the spare to the Moreland duchy, has been dispatched to a house party along with his younger brother, Anthony, in order to secure a bride. Their mother is worried that their ill elder brother, the heir, will die from a lingering illness without siring a son, leaving the duchy’s future in doubt. Once there, Percy meets Esther Himmelfarb, no-nonsense spinster who does not expect to marry due to her lineage and lack of dowry.

I’m glad I read it in 2014 and even happier to find on my reread that I like it as much I did the first time. Burrowes eschews a larger external narrative, preferring to make Esther and Percy’s romance the entire focus. We have some minor deviations in switching to the POV of either Percy’s father or Sir Jasper, the rake who tries to importune Esther, but overall this is a very good attempt to flesh out the supporting characters of Percy and Esther. Percy in particular benefits from this deeper look into his past as he has, at times, played the antagonist in his children’s books, so I appreciate getting to know him more outside the POV of his children.

This is a really sweet story and a good introduction to the world that Burrowes begins with the stories that not only unfold with the Windham children but the larger world of family and friends.

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