RETRO REVIEW: The Making of a Duchess by Shana Galen

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A very dangerous attraction…

Julien Harcourt, Duc de Valère, is more than willing to marry the lovely young lady his mother has chosen. Little does he know, she’s been sent to prove him a spy and a traitor…

And an even more dangerous secret…

Sarah Smith’s mission is to find out whether the Duc’s trips to the Continent are as innocent as he claims, but the way he looks at her is far from innocent…

Their risky game of cat and mouse propels them from the ballrooms of London to the prisons of Paris, and into a fragile love that may not survive their deceptions

Publisher and Release Date:  Sourcebooks Casablanca, June 2010

RHR Classifications:
Time and Setting:  Regency England
Genre:  Historical Romance
Heat Level:  2
Reviewer Rating:  4 Stars

Review by Susan

Shana Galen crafts a truly entertaining read with The Making of a Duchess, the first installment in the Sons of the Revolution trilogy.  The action takes place during the Reign of Terror and later, during the ascension of Napoleon.  The book tells the story of Julien Harcourt, the Duc de Valère, and English governess Sarah Smith, who impersonates a countess in order to wheedle her way into Julien’s world.  She does so at the request of her employer Sir Northrop, the head of England’s Foreign Affairs Office who suspects Julien of being a traitor to England and requires an innocuous young lady to inveigle her way into Julien’s life.   Adventure, deception, secrecy, espionage, and romance – all have a significant share in Ms Galen’s story as two unlikely people come together and turn out to be a for a made-for-each-other couple.

Ms Galen studiously integrates period details into the story without overwhelming the reader with facts about the leaders who dominated the time and its political environment.  The story informs about the social conditions during this tumultuous era, making the characters personable as if they are people whom the reader would know if they lived during this time.

The images Ms Galen paints in the opening chapter as Julien and his mother are escaping an angry mob puts a vivid picture in the reader’s mind about the level of danger that threatened the French aristocracy during the period surrounding the Revolution. The two are forced to flee their family’s estate without Julien’s two young brothers, Armand and Sebastian.  Their outcome weighs heavily on Julien and his mother, who hold out hope that the boys are still alive.

Sarah was orphaned as a baby, raised at an all girl’s academy, and later trained to be a governesss. Her character experiences the most growth as she undergoes a transformation from impish young miss to dignified (fake)countess Sarafina Artois, a French émigré who is the daughter of a friend of Julien’s mother.  Bound by duty to his family, Julien allows Sarah to live under his roof in England where she must spy on him and discover what he does during his multiple trips to France.  Originally thinking their contract has no emotional attachment, the pair gradually learns to trust one another with their secrets, which strengthens their bond as their relationship blossoms into a heated love affair.

Ms Galen’s descriptive writing makes it easy for the reader to absorb the atmosphere surrounding the characters.  The animated dialogue creates intimacy between the characters as the reader acts as a voyeur looking in from afar at this world fraught with life and death situations that engross the imagination.  The French Revolution has the potential to fodder indelible romances and Ms Galen has found endless inspiration from its pool.

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