How To Dance With A Duke by Manda Collins

Genre:  Romance
Main characters: Miss Cecily Hurston; Major Lucas Dalton, Duke of Winterson
Time and place: 19th century England
First sentence:Miss Cecily Hurston battered her ivory-tipped parasol against the hulking footman who none too gently thrust her through the doors of Number 13 Bruton Street.
Verdict: Three stars.

Cecily Hurston has a mission: getting access to the journals her father has kept in his last, ill-fated expedition to Egypt. This should be as easy as going to his Egyptology club — the place where the results of his expeditions are always taken — and ask to see them, right? Turns out it is not so, as there is a rule in place that only allows entrance to the club members or their wives.

The Duke of Winterson also has a mission: to ask the members of the Egyptology club for details about the trip to Egypt that has resulted in his brother’s going missing. Unsurprisingly, he is not admitted to the club either.

This is how our protagonists first meet — in front of the Egyptology club — and how they ended up working as a team, joined by a common goal. Little did they know how dangerous this enterprise of theirs will turn out to be; little did they know that this adventure will change their lives forever after.

General impression
Alas, the book started out quite promising. A smart heroine with just the right level of pluck, a rather unwilling Duke with a sense of humor, a mystery involving Egyptian artefacts — all things I was bound to enjoy. However, it felt like there were two books, with a certain significant event separating them. The second half just didn’t match the pace of the first; the heroine started having some “what is she thinking ??” moments and the conclusion of the mystery was only so and so. I’m not saying it’s a bad book, just that the second half could have been better.
Book obtained via NetGalley.

Lucas, the duke in the story, is a former soldier, who recently has found himself inheriting the title from a relative. An honorable, intelligent man, from a loving family, he is as close to being the perfect romance hero as can be. I enjoyed ‘meeting’ him, of course, but there’s a downside to his perfection: he doesn’t stand out in any way from the rest of titled romance heros that seem to be abundant these days. I find this somewhat sad, as he really is a great guy and a lovely character.

Cecily, the would-be dancer with a duke, is a bluestocking: a young woman who has dedicated her life to her passion for cryptography and ancient languages. Her father, an Egyptologist (one of the archaeologists digging in Egypt), did not encourage her to pursue her inclinations, yet she has managed to become quite a reputed scholar on her own. She was engaged, years ago, with a guy who broke her heart, and has all but retired from ton activities ever since. Although of course later, when she decides that she does actually want to be seen and admired by men, she turns out to be quite a beauty, with the perfect figure and all that pile of clichés (I am starting to crave a book with a less-than-amazingly-beautiful heroine *sigh*). For a while, I really liked Cecily, as she was smart, and made a good team with the duke (whom I have also liked a lot). However, some of her feelings/actions seemed somewhat unauthentic at times, or exaggerated, and I wasn’t very fond of her during those times.
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Joined by their mutual goals, the two characters develop an unlikely friendship, that will, of course, bloom into love later on. I liked the fact that their initial attraction was based on something more than lust, and I liked the way Cecily was strong-willed enough to always keep her gentleman friend guessing. In fact, he often thinks of her as “his vibrant Amazon”, and not based on her tall stature alone. They make a cute couple, and I liked the way everyone around them noticed that.

The mystery component of the plot is not the novel’s forte (but hey, who reads romance books for the mystery part? :) ). Like the protagonists’ relationship, things are very promising up to a point (although I did guess early on who the culprit was, I was quite curious about what did actually happen to William, Lucas’ brother). However, after a certain point things started falling apart and events started happening with no particular rhyme or reason.
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I probably would have liked the book somewhat more if it weren’t for this mystery element; although having all this Egyptian stuff involved does make for a cooler story :)

Thoughts on the title
Ahem. I spent most part of the book wondering about why the title is so. I get the alliteration, especially as the next book in the series is called How To Romance a Rake (and I bet we’ve already met the rake in question :) ), but on the whole it seems just a phrase plastered on, rather than having anything with the book. Especially as Lucas, having been wounded in the war, cannot actually dance, making the title look less than inspired.

And it actually gets worse later on. One of the sentences near the end is “[Making babies] was one dance for which she and her duke were very well matched indeed.” Ahem. So this is how you dance with a duke, by having sex with him? I could have done without that part.

Thoughts on the ending
I liked the romance’s ending, classic HEA (what can I say, I like HEAs :) ). And we already know how I feel about the mystery part.
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What I liked most
The sense of humor both Lucas and Cecily shared. Seeing them together was fun fun fun :)

What I liked least
This honor goes to a particular scene, that happens to contain my ‘favorite’ kind of sex scene: I call it the OMG-we-are-in-danger-let’s-have-sex trope. It may be because I have never been in an actual danger, but I cannot imagine anything would be farther from my mind in those circumstances than sex.
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Recommend it to?
People who like romance books, of course :)
I know I have listed here quite a few things that did not work for me, but it is (mostly) a cute book and worth giving a try.

Buy this from | Buy this from | Manda Collins’ website