Team ALBTALBS TBR Challenge Review: The Duke Who Didn’t by Courtney Milan

The Duke Who Didn’t by Courtney Milan
Historical romance released by Courtney Milan on September 22, 2020

The Duke Who Didn't by Courtney Milan book coverMiss Chloe Fong has plans for her life, lists for her days, and absolutely no time for nonsense. Three years ago, she told her childhood sweetheart that he could talk to her once he planned to be serious. He disappeared that very night.

Except now he’s back. Jeremy Wentworth, the Duke of Lansing, has returned to the tiny village he once visited with the hope of wooing Chloe. In his defense, it took him years of attempting to be serious to realize that the endeavor was incompatible with his personality.

All he has to do is convince Chloe to make room for a mischievous trickster in her life, then disclose that in all the years they’ve known each other, he’s failed to mention his real name, his title… and the minor fact that he owns her entire village.

Only one thing can go wrong: Everything.

There’s a lot I want to say about this book, and I probably won’t cover it all, but I want to first say I liked it. I think you will too.​ ​So this is how I (it) started with The Duke Who Didn’t: this book is ridiculous in the best possible way. Lighthearted and fun. A delightful confection of a book. (I was about 30% in?​ when I wrote that.​) And then just before 50% there was a literal jaw dropping moment and I had to put the book down. Just to take a few moments. Honestly I should probably sit and think about this story more, but then I’ll get too in my head and afraid I’ll mess up what I ought to or need to say … (which would actually be very fitting with these characters) – so I’ll just go with what’s off the top of my head now and let it go.​ (Although I wrote that bit two days ago.) There were definitely laugh out loud moments, and a lot to enjoy. I don’t want to get it wrong, but it’s my review so there “is no wrong.” Let’s go. ​


​Chloe “Yulin” Fong. She’s one of those prickly heroines – prickly *people* who are hard to know, because they’re so tightly contained. She has so much ​love in her, so many feelings, just so much emotion that instead of letting it spill out, she stuffs it in. It makes her awkward. It makes people think she’s cold and uncaring. She does have friends – people who have known her for years. And the townspeople know and like her, but they’re not “bosom buddies.” Chloe is a perfectionist obsessed with lists. She’s also a pushover, with the inability to say no to people. (This goes generally unappreciated.) She’s also trying to live up to her name, or what she thinks her name means, to help her father, to just get through everything. We get to see her as she is, not how she presents herself, and Chloe is someone you want in your inner circle. She’s hard to describe, so you’ll just have to read her.

Chloe and Jeremy are so similar, and yet so different. First of all, Jeremy is an absolute marshmallow. He’s a wonderful, fun, ​a ​good time hero. But he’s not fluff. He’s got unknown depths, but hides it in humor. He’s [also] paralyzed by what [right thing] to say in fraught situations, but his glib quick wit saves him. ​He seems brainless but it’s been cultivated.​ While Chloe freezes in situations, Jeremy is frozen internally but quick with a joke. He’s sadly had to train himself to be thus. However, this allows him to see Chloe. He understands her, and allows her ways to communicate when she’s stuck in her analysis. Then also, Jeremy is the “unknown duke.” The absent landlord, and he thinks he’s betrayed his friends. While Chloe has lived in the village most of her life, Jeremy has ​lived in China, and in “British high society.” He’s the “fucking duke.” I liked that he doesn’t take his station too seriously, but he does take himself seriously. He stayed away for a few years, but his mother’s advice to “root out every poisonous vine” really galvanizes him into action. Jeremy is generous, kind, and also someone you want on your side.

​I really identified with Chloe and Jeremy for multiple reasons. I meant to write the review as soon as I finished it, but instead it’s been something of a [small] process. ​​I think there will be a ~duality of connection for readers to this book. All of us have at one point or another, for one reason or another felt like we didn’t belong. Like an outsider. So there’s that universality. On another level though, there’s the specificity of being “othered,” and then especially being treated as if you don’t belong, even in your native land.​ While Chloe is fully Chinese, she’s spent most of her life in the village of Wedgeford Down, and it’s a lovely diverse place. (Although of course step foot out of it and …) Jeremy is a duke, and half white, but because he’s had to deal with the ton, with other heirs at school and such, he’s ​had to deal with a lot of bigotry and racism. Even from his own family. Despite his aunt loving him and wanting the best for him … she goes about it terribly. She loves him “despite” his “Chinese-ness” and she wants to erase it from the family. (Which … sounds horrible – because it is. She does love Jeremy but … is pretty toxic.) And that’s something this book deals with – toxic relationships. 

​The use of language was interesting, and I appreciated that Ms. Milan used transliteration/romanization instead of simply the English words. And that there was a nod to different cultures and languages. If you’ve ever spent significant time with multilingual individuals you know there’s a mix of languages thrown in. (Nowadays with globalization there’s also a lot more loan words…) But especially with immigrants, and especially if they’ve lived in their new homeland for a period of time, because the mix of languages can make your head spin. In The Duke Who Didn’t I believe there’s Hakka, Cantonese, and … maybe Southern Min? (Teochow being in the last family of languages… I’m really trying not to go too far into this in my review, because I’ll spiral. I spent half the day talking about dumplings on twitter – and it’s a topic I’ve hit on throughout the years. Anyway.) And some of those cultural elements too. And of course we understand no person or representation is a monolith. Chloe has established a relationship of sorts with the mother she never knew through her daily prayers to her mother in front of the ancestral tablets. I thought it was really lovely for her to have these moments, and you can treat them as introspection, or that she really was communing with her mother.
​There were some reveals that I don’t want to say because they’re spoilerish, and on the one hand it was so “of course” but in the forefront it was “oh my gosh!” And then on the other hand “ok but you don’t get it, this is normal but not …” Anyway you just have to read it and find out for yourself. ​
​I have to share some quotes too, because while I don’t normally do this – they’re never as good out of context. (And I’m not for spoilers in my reviews normally … these just were so noteworthy I bookmarked them to share.)
No, really, he imagined himself saying. I really am prepared to give half my dukedom to you. But I should warn you — it’s no fun.

That would go over … extremely not well at all.​

And shout out to Mr. Fong. I loved him. Everyone should be so lucky as to have a father like Mr. Fong. N.B. – Jeremy calls him “uncle.” It’s a sign of respect, and some familiarity. Like, you don’t call a stranger “uncle” of course, but someone who has a [close] relationship with a friend or family member is by default “family.” It’d actually be slightly disrespectful to call him “Mr. Fong” on Jeremy’s part. And never his first name. Chloe had previously told Jeremy her father is like a bunny rabbit. This is from Jeremy [stopping by] the Fong residence one morning.
“Good morning, Uncle,” Jeremy essayed. 
“Is it.” It wasn’t a question. Mr. Fong still did not look up.
Soft. Like a bunny rabbit. Ha. Maybe like a feral rabbit wearing battle armor while manning a cannon. 
And then the food Mr. Fong serves Jeremy. I’m literally chuckling as I write this, just thinking about it. Again, I’ll leave it for you to find out. Now … this lovely moment. I felt it stands on its own, even out of context. One of the biggest “aww” moments.
“The truth is,” he told her, “I’m not like you. I don’t make lists. I don’t have rational explanations for everything. If you asked me why I wanted you, I wouldn’t be able to give a carefully thought-out account. I could only say that you make me feel like the home I want to live in.”
I mean come on. I really love me a smitten hero, and Jeremy is that. He met Chloe more than a decade ago, and he’s been in love with her ever since. Chloe has strong feelings for him too, but his absence the past few years hurt her, and made her (extra) prickly. There are so many layers I’m not even mentioning. Chloe and her father. Their revenge. The special sauce. (Literally, *laughs* a special sauce.) Jeremy and his station. His “deception” of the townspeople. (Honestly I thought it was going on a bit too much/wasn’t understanding why it was such a big deal – and/but the “reveal” is … so good.) Jeremy and his family. Obviously Chloe and Jeremy and their careful, cautious, but not courtship and romance. The prejudice and idiocy they face. (Oh god – what happened to Jeremy at Oxford. I can’t. Not even going to get into that here. Or more modern Chinese history.)
And the feelings. I told Ms. Milan reading her book felt like being punched in the heart. … “in … a good way?” 
In short, this is a delightful story. There’s a lot of humor, and fun. Jeremy is a trip. All that being said though there are a lot of serious issues sprinkled in. They don’t bog down the book, but they’re there, and a big part of Chloe and Jeremy’s history. As well as that of Wedgeford. The trials! What really brings everyone together – but is a bit of a peripheral. The sauce. While this is a historical romance it has a bit more of a straightforward, modern tone. I think you’ll enjoy it. I know I’ll be re-reading this book in the future.​

*ETA: I forgot to address the topic of “dress to impress.” While there isn’t much description of clothes in the book – and I mean I wanted to read it anyway … their wedding outfits. I imagine what Chloe wore was quite striking, especially in England. I’ll link in the comments an image I think probably was what she was basically wearing.

Grade: B+

You can read an excerpt here, and buy a copy here.

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