A Most Unlikely Duke is a historical romance novel written by Sophie Barnes. It is the first book in her Regency-era Diamonds in the Rough series. I have a few books by Barnes in my to-read queue, but I have not had the pleasure of reading any of them before this.
Raphe and his sisters come from a relatively noble family, but circumstances have forced them into poverty. Raphe has been supporting his sisters since he was a boy, and he earns most of his money as a bare-knuckle boxer in the London slums. Needless to say, he is absolutely astounded when he receives a letter saying that he has inherited the title of Duke of Huntley. He is whisked off to one of the poshest areas of the City, and thrown into a crash course in how to be an aristocrat.
Lady Gabriella is the girl next door to the Duke of Huntley’s London townhouse. She is all set to marry a typical aristocrat; he’s handsome, but bland. None of that matters to Gabriella because she knows that she needs to make a proper match in order to make up for her sister’s scandal (that occurred before this book begins).
Initially, Gabriella offers to give Raphe’s sisters etiquette lessons, but she finds herself drawn to an enigmatic man who is nothing like the men in her social circle. She is torn between duty to her family and a connection that feels impossible to ignore.
I was drawn to this book because of the plot summary; “rags to riches” is hardly a unique trope, but I have not read a lot of books where the man is the one who experiences a sudden change in fortune. It is, I suppose, a reverse Cinderella or Pygmalion. Gabriella and Raphe have good chemistry, although I should point out that not very much of an emphasis is placed on the physical aspect of their relationship, as seems to be the current standard for most mainstream romance novels.
I would recommend A Most Unlikely Duke to fans of historical romance. This was an original look at a familiar theme, and I liked the way that Barnes set up conflict: both Raphe and Gabriella have to confront issues from their past before they can find happiness together. Again, while that is hardly a new theme, Barnes puts an original spin onto things. The second book in the series in coming out in a couple of weeks, and I am most definitely looking forward to reading it!