The Wallflower Wager is the third book in Tessa Dare’s Girl Meets Duke series of Regency-era historical romance novels. I read this book immediately after listening to the Audible edition of the second book in the series (The Governess Game), and I was looking forward to finding out what was going to happen next in the series.
Lady Penelope Campion is quite devoted to her small group of friends- two of whom have appeared as heroines in the previous books in the series- but for the most part, she avoids Proper Society. She is content to live with her sizeable menagerie of abandoned animals, but her family has told her that she needs to put an end to her eccentric ways and return to the family’s country house.
Gabriel Duke has crawled his way from the (literal) gutter to the top through sheer grit and determination. They call him the “Duke of Ruin” because of his ruthlessly methodical approach to achieving his goals. His newest project is renovating the house next door to Penny. He intends to sell the house to social climbers who will pay top dollar for the cachet of living next door to a Real Lady. So, against his better judgement, he agrees to help Penny find homes for all the animals so that she can remain in London. This is purely a business arrangement, nothing more- full stop.
And of course, the more time they spend together, the more they realize that their adversary is not so horrid after all!
First of all, I love the way that Dare took creative license with choosing “dukes” for the heroes in her series. Everyone knows that historical romance is overrun with handsome young dukes. There is usually a duke for every wallflower, with more to spare. While the first hero in the Girl Meets Duke series was an Actual Duke, the second was merely an heir to a dukedom. But with the third book- we have a hero whose only connection to dukes lies in his surname. It is always a nice change of pace to have a hero who has earned his fortune rather than being lucky enough to be born into a predetermined lineage. Gabriel’s origins have shaped every facet of his character, and it’s a struggle for him to not see himself as the starving urchin he once was.
That sounds rather heavy, and there’s one more thing I want to add. Gabriel is not the only one shaped by events from his past. Penny has been holding onto a very traumatic secret that occurred when she was a girl, and she never told anyone about it. It came as somewhat of a surprise in an otherwise light book, so I wanted to make readers aware of it. I absolutely applaud its inclusion, and it provided a very sobering look at the development of Penny’s character.
As I mentioned, for the most part, this is very light book. The Governess Game was funny because of the two little girls, and The Wallflower Wager is funny because of the animals. From the most vulgar bird in England to the little dog who has wheels to help him move around to the otter to the goat who is most certainly not pregnant, it’s clear that Penny loves her animals. At first, Gabriel, who had to fight to survive, doesn’t understand how anyone could lavish care on mere animals, but he slowly understands Penny’s love for her animal companions.
Some of my favorite scenes involved the development of a friendship between Gabriel and Ash and Chase (the heroes from the first two books in the series). Naturally, Ash and Chase detest Gabriel at first- not because he isn’t from a wealthy family- but because they don’t trust his intentions with Penny, who they love as a sister. The bickering between the three men was hilarious, and the scene with the goat was one of the funniest things I have read all year.
Gabriel and Penny have wonderful chemistry, and I loved how they were both rather ambivalent about it at first. Their relationship developed slowly, and watching them admit their feelings for each other was just delightful.
I would absolutely recommend The Wallflower Wager. The reading experience is even better if you’re familiar with the characters, so make sure to read the series in order. It’s not an absolute prerequisite, but I’d strongly encourage you to do so. All three book in the series are 5 star reads, but this one has been my favorite. I know this is ridiculously impatient of me, but I’m already looking forward to the next book in the Girl Meets Duke series.
The Wallflower Wager will be released on Tuesday August 13th.
I received an ARC of this book from Edelweiss/the publisher in exchange for an honest review.