AUTHOR: Courtney Milan
Genre: Historical Romance
Tropes: Friends-to-lovers/secret identity/second chance
Extras: [Side note: If you want to learn more about how the book came about I encourage you to listen to Smart Podcast, Trashy Books episode where Courtney talks about this book – LINK.]
SUMMARY: No matter how hard she tries, Chloe Fong can’t seem to forget the night she almost kissed Jeremy Yu. It doesn’t help that she has no time to be reminiscing over that almost-kiss. The Wedgeford Trials are days away and she has hundreds of things to do and so little time to do it all. She’s got to name her father’s special sauce, fill hundreds of jars with said sauce, and set up the food stall on the grounds of the Trials. It’s the big chance Chloe and her father have been waiting for – a chance to generate buzz and income and a further step towards conquering the British sauce market and wreak revenge against the men who stole her father’s original sauce recipe and threw her family onto the streets with not a penny to their name.
Except, Chloe can’t seem to forget that almost-kiss and it doesn’t help that Jeremy Yu has finally decided to show his face in the village of Wedgeford after three years away.
Jeremy Yu has finally returned to the village of Wedgeford with plans of his own. He’s back in Wedgeford to find a bride, but not just any bride – he’s here for Chloe Fong, the woman who stole his heart when he was only fourteen. Jeremy has spent the past three years trying to become serious – serious enough that Chloe will even consider his marriage proposal. He’s got a plan to win Chloe’s hand. Except for one small little problem – his last name isn’t technically Yu, it’s Wentworth and technically he’s a duke, the Duke of Lansing to be exact, the same duke that technically owns almost all of Wedgeford – a fun fact that he’s failed to mention to everyone in the town, including Chloe.
What could go possibly wrong?
How it stole my heart?
The Duke Who Didn’t is an absolute pure delight. When Courtney Milan announced the release of TDWD, a book about friends-to-lovers featuring a British Chinese heroine and biracial British Chinese hero – I was ecstatic.
One of the major reasons I enjoyed the novel so much is that I knew there would be a low level of angst going in. Milan stated early on that TDWD would have a low level of tension between the heroine and hero. Under normal circumstances, I love angst. I’m an angst-loving whore. I adore a heaping dose of angst in my romance novels, but this year being what it has been, TDWD provided the perfect escape to a place where you get to watch these two complicated individuals fall in love with one another, help one another, and work together to build a life for themselves in a world that sees them as second-class citizens, even though one of them is a British duke.
I love the heroine Chloe YiLin Fong. She is a total boss, albeit one not as socially adept as she would hope, but still a boss. She is a woman with a plan, and a to-do list, striving towards the goal to create a better life for herself and her father, and also to wreak a little bit of revenge, too. She’s a woman after my own heart and her journey throughout the novel is one of realization and growth, and coming to the understanding that you don’t have to make the journey alone. I can relate to her character in so many ways and I admire her fortitude to move forward and strive towards goals that may seem lofty to others. Chloe has this immutable quiet strength about her, one she barely recognizes but one that others can see, including Jeremy who loves her all the more for it.
The fact that Chloe is a Hakka woman adds a whole other dimension to her character and her story, and one that is rarely explored in most fiction. The Hakka people are a population group within China and its diaspora. The Hakka migrated across China throughout their history. In fact, the name Hakka is roughly translated to “guest families”. They have their own customs, culture, language, and food. Hakka Chinese makes up the largest Chinese diaspora in the world today. They were persecuted within China during the 19th century and were central to the Taiping Kingdom and later Rebellion, a civil war that saw millions die in the country. Milan masterfully weaves this history into Chloe and her father’s personal history and took very deliberate care to not only get the history right, but also the transliteration of the Hakka language in the book. Both Hakka and Cantonese are used throughout the novel, and while similar, these two dialects are different from one another.
While the majority of the world likes to think of China and Chinese people as this giant monolith, they couldn’t be further from the truth. While the written Chinese language, which has existed in some form or another for thousands of years and shared throughout the country and its diaspora, the actual population is made up of many different sub-groups with their own dialects, customs and practices, food, and even religion. I can personally trace my maternal lineage to the Guangdong region in China and to the county of Taishan, which is another population group that makes up a large portion of the Chinese diaspora around the world, especially here in North America.
Jeremy Yu, aka. Jeremy Wentworth, the Duke of Lansing, can also trace his maternal lineage to the Guangdong region. It’s in the city of Guangzhou where his mother and his maternal grandparents reside. It is where his mother met his father and later married and where he spent a large part of his childhood. His father was the third son of a fourth son and was never supposed to inherit a title, but as things go, a series of unfortunate events befell several of Jeremy’s family members, including his own father, leading Jeremy to become the Duke of Lansing at an incredibly young age. Jeremy’s aunt thought it best to have Jeremy return to England to study and learn to become a duke under her tutelage.
Jeremy’s life in England was not the easiest even though he’s a duke. He is still half Chinese – still seen as the other, not fully accepted in the upper echelons of British society. Even his own aunt sees his Chinese ethnicity and heritage as something to be erased to make him more British and more suitable as the Duke of Lansing. Despite his aunt and pressures to conform, Jeremy grows up with a sense of self, instilled in him by his mother, and becomes a smart, funny, and kind man. Much of Jeremy’s personality, particularly his self-deprecation, is a mask and a shield, a way for him to move about life in a country and a world that would rather not see him as the rightful heir and duke. It’s not until Jeremy arrives in Wedgeford that he discovers a place where he can his truest self, not having to hide and just enjoy being himself without airs and pressures to conform.
Chloe and Jeremy complement each other perfectly. I love the relationship these two have with one another. They care about each other and learn more about one another throughout the novel. These two were meant for one another. They are each other’s yin and yang – they balance each other out creating a harmonious relationship that neither one thought that they would be able to find. It’s a truly beautiful thing to witness.
The village of Wedgeford in which the novel is set is peculiar in that its population is mainly Asian diaspora, hailing from East and Southeast Asian countries. This is something that you rarely see in historical romances set in the United Kingdom. The village’s other claim to fame is its annual Wedgeford Trials – a hide-and-seek/capture-the-flag type game that draws in hundreds of participants from all over England. The entire village becomes involved, making it the big event of the year. You’ll fall in love with Wedgeford and its villagers, which makes it all the better that this novel is the first book in a series set in this quaint British village from Milan.
Food plays an important part in TDWD. For many Asian cultures, food plays a primary role in daily, family, and religious life. Chloe’s father telling her to stop what she is doing and eat is not only her father caring for her but his way of telling Chloe he loves her even though he doesn’t utter those exact words. Chloe’s friend telling her to eat and get some rest is her way of letting Chloe know she cares. The act of Chloe placing fresh food at her mother’s pray altar every day is her way of connecting with her mother and letting her know that she thinks about her daily and loves her dearly. It’s is in the act of cooking and eating that many Asian families connect with one another and a way to show each other how much they care for one another without actually saying the words, and Milan depicts that beautifully in the novel. I was also craving steamed baos like crazy after reading the novel, so be forewarned.
Chloe’s relationship with her father is the novel’s other love story. Chloe’s Ah Ba (father in Hakka and Cantonese) is all the family she has left in the world – for the majority of her life it has just been her and her Ah Ba. He is the man that raised her, fed her, kept her safe, despite all the hardships that life has thrown at them. You can feel the love that emanates between the two of them throughout the novel. You see their ups and downs, but you know that without a doubt these two would move heaven and earth for one another.
The Duke Who Didn’t is one of my favourite novels that I have read this year. It has everything I love about a romance novel and just magnifies all of it, stealing my heart in the process. This is a book that I highly, highly recommend that you pick up and read as soon as possible. The audiobook version of this novel comes out on November 3rd, 2020 if you love audiobooks. The eBook version is already available at your favourite eBook retailer.
Thanks for reading!