Madeline Hunter, the New York Times–bestselling author of dozens of historical romances, is a virtuoso of the genre. With Decadent Dukes Society, her new trilogy, Hunter is joining Kensington’s growing roster of big-name historical romance writers, which currently includes Mary Jo Putney and Hannah Howell, and will soon boast Betina Krahn, joining later this year, and Miranda Neville, coming aboard in 2018. Kensington is fast becoming a lightning rod for some of the best and best-loved writers in historical romance.
For her new trilogy, Hunter is returning to a favorite time and place, Regency-era England, where a series of badly behaved nobles and independent-minded women vie for control over courtship and, ultimately, their destinies. The Most Dangerous Duke in London, the first book in the series, interweaves several story lines into a complex web ensnaring two feuding families.
The plot revolves around a star-crossed couple: Adam Penrose, the Duke of Stratton, and the woman he desires, Clara, who is also the daughter of the man who drove Adam’s father to his death by spreading a false rumor. A modern heroine, she’s more concerned with getting her women’s journal published than tying the knot. She’s worried that the role of a wife will diminish her social standing and limit her freedom. “Her real struggle,” Hunter says, “is not in thinking outside the norm for her society, but rather in acknowledging that perhaps she will relinquish her position on marriage after she starts to love Adam.”
Hunter picked this period in part because it was a time of great societal change and upheaval; for her characters, that means facing hard truths about themselves. “People are most uncomfortable when the assumptions by which they live are challenged,” Hunter says. “I had set prior books in the 1820s, and returned to that decade for this series because it was a disruptive and transitional decade in Great Britain. Ideas were changing fast, as were customs.”
Even Hunter herself didn’t anticipate how some of her creations would behave as she wrote the book. “Adam’s character definitely surprised me,” she explains. “I had an image of him that was far darker than he wanted to be.” She describes her characters like friends in the throes of love: “It was just as well that he revealed a very warm and romantic side, because otherwise Clara would never have agreed to marry him.”
Family feuds play a central role in this world of vexed lovers, and the protagonists come to realize that their history isn’t quite what they’d been raised to believe. Hunter particularly enjoyed digging into this aspect of the story. Many families, she points out, have murky histories, the result of generations of omission and embellishment.
The Most Dangerous Duke in London takes place in Warwickshire, a location Hunter visited prior to beginning on the book. She tends to get her ideas from foreign places she travels to, rather than picking her settings and then making dedicated research trips. This means her imagination is fueled by a certain amount of happenstance. “I once wrote an entire book because of the medieval towers that I saw when visiting the Amalfi Coast,” Hunter recalls.
Hunter’s readers have a lot to look forward to in the upcoming Decadent Dukes books. In the second title in this series, called A Devil of a Duke, readers will encounter the Duke of Langford, a bad boy who has an affair with a mysterious woman. The third book tells the Duke of Brentworth’s story, which Hunter hasn’t yet written and isn’t ready to say much about. “I am superstitious about talking about stories at that stage,” she admits. “However, any man called ‘the most ducal duke’ is begging for his comeuppance, don’t you think?”