First, content and trigger warnings along with spoilers: physical abuse of family members, attempted murder of multiple people, verbal abuse, aggression towards women and threats all committed by the villain of the piece. He’s a horrifying sack of refuse but if this stuff is rough for you, I would be cautious. He gets his comeuppance if that helps to know. This is mainly at the end of the book and part of the climax and resolution, so there is tons of beautiful fluff before it.
Ok, so if you’ve followed me on Twitter for any length of time, you know of my desperate and all abiding love for Cat Sebastian’s work. When I found out she had a new book coming out, I climbed the walls trying to get an ARC because I have the patience of a border collie waiting for a ball to be thrown. Thankfully, Cat (and her publisher) took pity on me.
I have no shame about my choices. This book literally made me fill my notebook with three pages of quotes and I can’t even explain my feelings. But I will try.
‘A Duke in Disguise’ hits the blog because it has an amazing bisexual woman who isn’t erased in her relationships and is lovingly forthright about her feelings about her identity. Verity Plum is my new bisexual hero and I will defend her until my last breath. There’s also strong, interesting female side characters who make tough decisions and make it work and Lady Caroline has my respect forever. There’s great discussion about the unequal requirements and losses that can occur in marriage, which I also appreciated.
The main characters are an adorable cinnamon roll of a human man named Ash who reminded me way too much of Steve Rogers in all his bumbling, amazing consent practices and desperate lack of self esteem. He carries hairpins around just to help his love interest keep her hair together and blushes when engraving naughty pictures. He’s just so cute. He wants family so bad and connection so bad, but he’s also so bad at reaching out for it. I just wanted to cuddle him and make him go to therapy.
But the real star of the show is the fabulous, snarky, bisexual and not ashamed in the slightest of it, Verity Plum. She is as advertised, full of truth and ripe with possibility. Also, she is so funny that her dialogue is most of the quotes that I wrote down over my 2nd reading of this book. (Because I had to do a second reading so I could actually articulate my feelings beyond ‘EEEEEEE’).
Verity runs a paper with her brother Nate, who is the sort of lovable, Hamilton-esque dude who has no sense of his own safety and is far too involved in doing the right thing to realize that consequences fall on more than just his shoulders. The paper they own is on this side of sedition but Nate keeps trying to push the envelope while Verity slowly loses her mind in worry. Ash returns to living in their home after his mentor leaves for Italy in the hopes of improving his health and is Verity’s shoulder and rock in this hard time.
The moment I fell in love with this book happened when, during a discussion of her brother’s genius, Verity says that Nate gets to be a genius while she handles the economics of their life and food. Its a stark and lovely indictment of emotional labor by women and about who is allowed to follow their dreams and passions. Nate would be lost without Verity, but I don’t know if even Nate knows that. But Ash sees it and that matters.
Verity…I feel like I could spend an entire blog post just about her. Her experiences with women aren’t erased and they aren’t tangential. Her ex lover appears all over throughout the book and is hugely important in her development and growth. Verity’s so confident and comfortable in her sexual self and its so rare to see. Her bisexuality isn’t for titillation or a male gaze. Its hers and she revels in it. Somehow, that felt so intensely validating.
Things start coming to a head with a rather unexpected finding of family from Ash’s quarter, some secrets and a spectacular amount of bad communication. There are large hats to prove love, seditious pamphlets as wedding presents and bonding over corpses of villains.
One of my favorite parts that Cat always delivers on is discussion of disparity in class and station in romance. So many romances just hand wave this away, but I can always trust Cat to look these things dead on and ensure her characters find truthful, real ways to navigate the difficulties of the world they live in. Verity knows things will have to change if she marries someone who’s moving so up in the world but she finds a way to stay herself.
In the end, the happily ever after comes around, but it feels authentic and true. Verity and Ash find a way to be together that doesn’t require Verity to become a pretty painted doll or Ash to become some toady to the aristocracy. I won’t spoil any more for you, but read this wonder. Its so worth it and after so many shitty representations of bisexual women in media, it heals something inside me to see such good representation, alongside great consent and realistic relationship building. Even the side characters are lovely and compelling and it helps set up Unmasked by the Marquess so you can know more about Portia Allenby and her family.
5 out of 5 stars and I would sky write quotes on the moon if they would let me.
BUY THIS BOOK! (And if you follow this link, it’ll help support NJB with a small portion of the cost. As always, thank you!)
Until next time,
Not Just a Buzzword
*I received an ARC in exchange for an honest review and no you can’t have it, its mine.