Considering after reading this book I couldn't rest until I watched the hell out of every regency drama I had at hand I'd say His Wayward Duchess has certainly done its job! The story was immersive as much for the detail of the era as for the frustrating circumstance Holly finds herself in; I was egging her on the whole way through to break out and take control! A great female lead whose naivety of the severely elite world she finds herself in is a blessing in disguise, not least to her new husband, who she aims to raise from his severe solemnity up to her, somewhat outrageous(!), pedestal.
The story from Holly's perspective follows her initially superficial love for her husband, Strathavon (he's hot, he's a duke, he's proper rich, there's flustering), which grows into more genuine admiration and understanding, and ultimately strength. After being flung into a marriage higher than her station should have allowed, her tasks to repair Strathavon's childhood home seems the only reason he married her. The household is cold, and the servants reserved. Holly's own natural wit and forthrightness allow her to breach the barriers and find a way in. Holly's innate stubborness, that draws Sylvester in from the first few pages (I can picture that stubborn look perfectly, I've done it myself!), is certainly her finest feature, and it is the backbone of the story, and it was great watching her grow into a fully-fledged woman from isolated circumstances and through a chance meeting.
Sylvester is classic regency style hero. At least he is up until the point he becomes the downright sexy you wouldn't read in an Austen novel (you'll see), which is perfectly welcome in my eyes. He's confident and reserved, admired and desired, but will allow himself little happiness through guilt. His desire for Holly seems at first to be more for her interior design skills, which are not to be scoffed at; the lady has a mind of her own. But in his absence (avoiding his wife so not form an attachment to her) Holly becomes the duchess no-one expected her to be, and gradually Sylvester is drawn into her games, to great satisfaction. Seeing them test each other's resolve and daring in such a prissy society was one of the things that kept me e-turning the pages.
The detail of the era is excellent, but not overdone, and blended well into each moment it becomes relevant. I love reading novels of this era, but am not a technical expert on how things worked in society. Little insights about pin money and the Seasons etc. are things that can be understood instantly for anyone not familiar with the period, but takes nothing away from the story, it merely builds the world more strongly (as it should be).
Daphne du Bois' writing is fun and the right amount of proper; the pacing matches the circumstance, and there's enough delayed gratification to keep any modern reader hooked, as you know what we're like in these modern times. I read through it very quickly because I couldn't put it down. Having read it during a stressful move, it was the perfect uplift and escape for me, and I think a bit of my heart is still there with the Duke and Duchess of Pontridge Abbey. I'll see them again, but I'll certainly go and meet some more of Daphne du Bois' characters first...
Very well done; I am looking forward to delving further into the author's work!