cover image The Duke Undone

The Duke Undone

Joanna Lowell. Berkley, $16 trade paper (384p) ISBN 978-0-593-19828-5

Lowell (Dark Season) conjures vivid characters in this intelligent Victorian romance. As a female student at the Royal Academy of Arts, Lucy Coover is not permitted to attend nude figure drawing classes. So when she stumbles on a gorgeous man passed out naked in an alley, she cannot help later committing his form to canvas. When she comes face-to-face with her (now conscious) muse months later, she learns he is Anthony Philby, Duke of Weston. Anthony is bound by his father’s will to avoid scandal or risk his inheritance, so he and Lucy come to an arrangement to keep the shocking portrait from public view. Their businesslike relationship is complicated when Anthony offers to help Lucy evade eviction in exchange for assistance finding his missing sister. The corruption they uncover provides plenty of atmospheric intrigue, deepened by Lowell’s willingness to engage with ideas of gender, class, and empire, and by the complexity of the characters. Anthony struggles with self-doubt after a lifetime of being belittled, while sharp-eyed Lucy is refreshingly unwilling to indulge his vices or to throw away her dreams in favor of passion. Seasoned readers may predict the fates of both Lucy’s painting and Anthony’s sister, but will be too invested in the characters to mind. [em]Agent: Tara Gelsomino, One Track Literary. (Apr.) [/em]