If I Only Had a Heart...
Lenora Bell’s wonderful take on The Wizard of Oz.
If I Only Had a Duke by Lenora Bell
Series :: The Disgraceful Dukes, bk 2
No really! Lenora Bell really did take inspiration for the plot if If I Only Had a Duke from that nightmare-inducing, acid trip of a children’s film!
(I say that with love of course.)
The heroine’s name is even Dorothea! You might remember her as the half-sister of Charlene, heroine of the first book in the series, How the Duke Was Won (review under the link). Dorothea is the woman that Charlene was paid to impersonate in HtDWW. And just in case you missed it, HtDWW took its inspiration from Charlie and the Chocolate Factory! Yum!
(Book three is supposedly going to give us Alice in Wonderland!!!)
Though I would raise an argument that it’s debatable whether Thea, despite her name, is actually the Dorothy of this tale. Granted she does make it all the way to the Emerald
City Isle and even does a pretty stunning Regency approximation of melting the “Wicked Witch”.
But she’s not the only one over the course of the novel who’s yanked out of their usual comfort zone and deposited on this rather insane road trip from London to Ireland. Our hero Dalton, who also made a guest appearance in HtDWW, seems every bit as lost in Oz as Thea.
Of course Dalton’s distrust of/disbelief in/fear of love, despite his heartrendingly eager desire for the very love he thinks that he least deserves -
She deserved far better than the likes of him.
Not for him, the marigold silk of her hair.
The sweet scent of summer roses.
His the cold that snarled and bit like a cornered wolf. (41)
- (Say it with me ladies: OW MY HEART) AND his public persona as a notorious rake, even as he plays the avenging Robin Hood after dark, altogether suggest that Dalton is in fact our Tin Man. Such a sad character, in search of his heart.
Which makes Con (the less than servile manservant) the cowardly lion, that dear man. And leaves poor Molly as the scarecrow… though now that I think of it she could use a good shake and a bit of wisdom.
WAIT, JESSICA. TOO MANY PEOPLE. REWIND.
After becoming acquainted by letter in the novel’s epistolary prologue (Yessssssss let me shout forth my love of epistolary interludes in romances…) Dalton and Dorothea, who he dubs the “Devil’s Own Wallflower” (55), finally meet in person at a ball at the beginning of the novel.
(BTW: Does anyone want to start a Regency-Punk girl band called The Devil’s Own Wallflowers? I think we could make a killing… politely.)
See Dorothea is one of those fabulous heroines who has 0 - absolutely 0% - interest in being married. Or at least she has 0 interest in being married for all the wrong reasons. All she wants to do is tear apart the attics of Dalton’s Irish estate looking for a lost self-portrait of Artemisia Gentileschi… cool right!?
Only Dalton’s like “Um… no… you’re strange and annoying, and you might possibly want to marry me? Go away.”
It’s only later, after Dorothea has LITERALLY walked all over him (you CAN’T understand how much I love that scene. I loved it so much I refuse to spoil it by describing what happened. So go - read - I died. I just can’t…) that the two end up stuck in the same carriage together, bound for Ireland.
CARRIAGES. LET ME TELL YOU ABOUT CARRIAGES. OKAY?
Carriages are liminal spaces - just like cars, or ships, or trains, or anything that, when moving, does not exist in one place but rather exists perpetually between two places.
MAGIC THINGS HAPPEN IN CARRIAGES because the inside of the carriage is not the real world. Heroes can divulge painful secrets (like Dalton does here) or reveal their true-selves that they try to keep hidden (like that AMAZING sequence in Devil in Winter when Sebastian and Evie are fleeing North and he’s all tender and nurturing?). KISSES happen in carriages. SEX happens in carriages. Because what happens in the carriage isn’t “real”.
Dorothea even points this out in the text. The first time they kiss is in the carriage, and when she’s reflecting on the kiss she observes that “In London, a kiss such as that would have meant she’d been compromised. But they weren’t in London Anymore” (167).
I COULD GO ON. But I won’t - because the rest of that discussion is going in a conference paper for April… that I still have to write… opps.
THINGS I LOVED:
- I loved Thea’s fierce independence. She was determined through the whole book, even after she fell in love with Dalton, that she was going to stand on her own two feet. And even prop HIM up while she was at it, if he needed her to. She is SO strong. Every time I read the part where she stands up to the “Wicked Witch” I get chills. Even heartbroken she’s brilliant.
- I DON’T HAVE WORDS for how much I love that Dalton sees that strength in her - like EVEN when he’s trying to undermine her attempts to Spinsterize (that’s what I’m calling it from now on. fight me.) herself he’s doing it to try and prove to her that she doesn’t have to throw her whole life away just to be free. She just has to realize that she’s strong enough to fight for what she wants!
- LAMB. You know me. You KNOW my obsession with pet names. Every time he called her “Lamb” I just wanted to rip my heart out and hand it to him. Hey he’s the Tin Man right… so you know… he needs one.
- THIS BOOK IS HILARIOUS. WITNESS:
(Dorothea trying to convince an unenthusiastic Dalton that they need alias’ for the road.)
“And we’ve got three children waiting for us in Bristol. Their names are … Melisande, Mirabelle, and … Michaelmas.”
Dalton blinked. He hadn’t had his morning coffee yet. It was far too early for children. “Michaelmas?”
“She was born on the holy day, poor thing.”
“Michaelmas is a girl?” (112)
THINGS I COULD HAVE LIVED WITHOUT:
- Literally nothing. If I ever had a salty word to say about one of Bell’s books I’d probably cut my own tongue out and hand it to her (I’m going to run out of organs at this rate) because she has been an instant buy since book 1. Every book she writes I will buy.
When you trust an author - when an author proves through their wit, and talent, and insight that they are worthy of their readers’ trust - that’s invaluable. I don’t care that she’s only got two books out so far, Bell is an engaging, forward-thinking, mold-breaking author.
You don’t want to miss this series. You don’t want to miss this book. You just don’t. It’s funny. It’s intelligent. It’s fresh. The banter between Dalton and Thea is epic, their chemistry is spot on, and their HEA is as sweet and perfect as their “dark night” moment of separation was heartbreaking.