I've been hearing the buzz about this debut romance for a while and though I was skeptical it could live up to the hype (as I would be with any hyped piece), my skepticism proved to be unfounded. Funny and sparkly and complicated and lovely are all adjectives that fit.
Dunmore's debut (first in her League of Extraordinary Women series, hooray!) is set in England in 1879 when the first cohort of female students are going to be allowed to attend the University of Oxford. Among the hopefuls is Annabelle Archer. Annabelle has been working as an unpaid servant in her cousin's household since the death of her father and she's desperate to further her studies and be among the first women at Oxford. But the only way she can afford to attend is by taking a scholarship being provided by a women's suffrage group who expect her to help them with the cause. Her assignment? She's to recruit powerful men to their side in hopes they will vote for a married woman's property act coming up in Parliament. Annabelle's first, and accidental, target for lobbying is one of the most powerful men in England, the Duke of Montgomery.
Sebastian Devereux, said Duke, is set on one goal: the restoration of every property his father lost to the family holdings. In order to attain the last property on his list he has made a bargain with the Queen. She has no patience for women's suffrage (and apparently no understanding of irony) and instructs Devereux to put his political acumen to use in getting a Tory majority in the next election. All he has to do is keep his eyes on the prize and he'll finally be able to pause to find a wife and begin his own family. But he isn't counting on suffragists infiltrating his home or on falling hard and fast (though extremely reluctantly) for the sharp-tongued, intelligent Annabelle.
Though Dukes have been done to death in historical romance (and then some!), Dunmore's take nevertheless feels fresh and original and true to the period. I look forward to meeting the next Extraordinary Women she writes about.