Bringing Down the Duke is a brilliant debut historical romance. Set in Victorian England when suffragettes are fighting for rights, this is an enemies-to-lovers romance with a stodgy (divorced!) Duke hero who simply cannot have another scandal to his name and a penniless heroine studying at Oxford on a stipend from a women's rights organization.
The prose is gorgeous, the characters are thoroughly developed, and the tension between the two main characters is constant and compelling. I adored this book. There's quite a bit of forced proximity, a lot of arguing, and quite a bit of back and forth as our hero tries to prove to our heroine that she can be his wife in everything but name... and she tells him that's not enough. Annabelle is a strong but very vulnerable heroine - emotionally vulnerable but also physically and financially, as we see in the way her uncle treats her and how the police treat the women at what starts as a peaceful protest.
There are a few times when the hero, Sebastian, thinks things that made me physically recoil, but they did feel realistic. For example, he notes (in his head only) that he could take her away and do whatever he wanted with her, that men of his station could get away with things like that, but that in doing so he wouldn't get what he wanted from her - an intellectual, emotional, and physical partnership. So while I hated that those horrible thoughts were even on the page, I appreciated that the power imbalance was acknowledged and that he was consciously refuting these abhorrent practices. Their relationship is absolutely physical as they have powerful chemistry, but it's mostly one of the mind. They genuinely respect each other's intellect and respect the ways in which each person manipulates situations to their own advantage. Sebastian's political maneuverings are juxtaposed with Annabelle's management of the men in her life, for example.
Overall, it's one of the strongest historical romances I've ever read. There's plenty of sequel bait, and I look forward to continuing the series.
Suzanne received an early copy of this book from the publisher at the Romance Writers of America conference.
Content Warnings: attempted assault, men are disgusting, age gap, mention of past miscarriage and disowning, past aristocrat lover leaves her behind, hero's father drowns in a puddle while drunk, police misuse of power, jail, hunger, near homelessness