Four friends go off to war while one stays behind, but all five are affected by the outcome. In spite of the fact they are considered heroes, dubbed the Dukes of War, each carries their own battle scars. Unbelievably, the first four books in the series cover only six months, as each man’s post Waterloo life is explored. The prequel begins in December 1815 when Ravenwood’s spinster sister, Lady Amelia, an organizer extraordinaire, finds a soul mate in Lord Sheffield. In March 1816, Oliver, now Lord Carlisle, comes home to a title but no money, and winds up married at a small ceremony with his close friends Xavier, Ravenwood, Bartholomew, and the very pregnant Sarah (previously engaged to the now deceased Edmund, twin to Bart). Captain Xavier Gray, full of guilt for the blood on his hands, tries to escape from society, but he too succumbs to romance and ends up proposing by April. Around the same time, Bartholomew, minus one leg, feels unfit and unworthy of love, yet he feels compelled to help the young vicar’s daughter out of her difficulties. You can guess the results. Finally, Ravenwood announces his plan to do the honorable thing and marry Sarah before the babe is born, giving up his dream of marrying for love. The next book in the series deals with his story.
But back to Major Bartholomew Blackpool, a former rake and dandy, very handsome and always immaculately dressed. The only problem is one of his legs is not flesh and blood, but a prothesis. During the Battle of Waterloo, he not only lost his leg, but his twin brother Edmund. He can’t seem to forgive himself for talking his twin into running off to war. He also is furious with his friend Oliver York for dragging him off the battlefield instead of leaving him to die. What good is life if he can’t ride, dance, waltz, box, or romance the ladies? All invitations go into the fire, unopened, so Bart doesn’t have to face the ridicule or even worse, pity, of the ton. Then he receives a plea from Miss Daphne Vaughan who he hasn’t seen in 10 years. This childhood friend is now almost twenty one and her new guardian, Captain Gregory Steele (also known as Blackheart, pirate for hire, who played a role in Oliver’s story) insists on her marriage as quickly as possible to one of the potential suitors he has selected. Marriage is not in Daphne’s plans and she pleas with Bart to play pretend fiancé until she reaches her majority where a stipend awaits which is large enough to support her and her charitable ministry. Even though Bartholomew has refused to see his friends and even his parents, he feels compelled to answer her call for help. Ever the gentleman, it is impossible not to come to a maiden’s rescue. Then when the ruse means a season in London, Bart guiltily realizes he is actually having fun. Daphne is more resistant, she has plans to make her life worthwhile by becoming a crusader and fighting for societal changes, such as in the Textile industry in Lancashire. Believing that Charity is a sure thing, while Love is a risk, Daphne scorns the idea of romance and husbands and, at times, her anti-social behavior shocks the ton. She, too, has demons to conquer before she can find happiness.
The Major’s Faux Fiancé by Erica Ridley is a compelling story, with two stubborn protagonists trying to convince each other that they could live without love and romance (which is not a likely outcome in a Regency Romance). This book nicely brought the previous novels into play, including the talents of Lady Sheffield from the introductory novella, and gave us a taste of the future for Ravenwood and Sarah. While Ridley walked a thin line of over stressing the angst of our main characters, she was able to keep the repetitions to a reasonable level and focus more on the development of the plot (and subplots) with the introduction of some new and fascinating characters who I hope to see in future books of the series. Four stars.
A thank you to Netgalley and Intrepid Reads for this ARC in exchange for an honest review.