Posted in News
October 15, 2015

The Cross-Dressing Duke: UNTAMED by Anna Cowan

Corset guyby Madeline Iva

I’ve always thought androgyny is hot. And call me crazy, but given the right circumstances, I find a cross-dressing man is also a really sexy turn on.

So it should be no surprise to you that I just adored this historical called UNTAMED by Anna Cowan.  Adriana Anders recommended it to me, I pounced on it and snabbled it down in one day, enjoying it prodigiously.

What’s so cray-cray gender whack about this historical romance? We start off with an unfeminine heroine who has rough hands to go along with her crooked nose.  She’s stuck in a ball room, hating life.  Things are tense back at her London residence for her younger sister’s brute of a Scottish husband is on the warpath.  Baby sis has been sleeping with a duke, and husband is not pleased, to say the least.

Her sister, meanwhile, is trying to hook Katherine (Kit) up with all the eligible men on one hand–men that our heroine could care less about–while trying to keep her from meeting the enchanting, unhappy duke.  But they do meet and Duke Darlington is really just our heroine’s cup of tea.  They end up striking a bargain.  Kit will take the duke back to her house in the country where her mother and brother rough it, if the duke stops sleeping with her baby sister.  The duke breaks it off with the sister, and away they go…

Heh-heh-heh.  No, it’s not at all that straight forward.

I mean, it is, but there are a few little complications that gum up the works:

  1. The duke goes off into the country dressed as a woman named Rose, posing as a cousin to the duke.
  2. Rose is afraid of the dark, (seriously, the duke has issues with being alone in the dark) so Kit, our heroine, must share a bed with her.

A cross-dressing duke! Be still my heart.  I loved this book.  I found it to be wild, and sometimes not as historically authentic as one might wish, but compelling nevertheless.  (Note: cross-dressing DID happen in the 18th century from time to time.)

Click to buy.
Click to buy.

I liked the twisty relationships of Kit’s family.  I liked those “I really see you” moments of passion and romance between Kit and her duke. (Alexis Day was speaking about just this “I see you” thing earlier this week.)

I haven’t read any historicals in a long while (that friends didn’t write) and I’m very, very, very picky. But there’s even more gender-f*ckery that happens later on in the book, and when it did, I wanted to stand up and clap my hands, shouting ‘bravo.’

For anyone who enjoys romances and all their sometimes silly tropes, but occasionally frets that

  • so many heroines are meekly self-sacrificing
  • the hero must be a foot taller than the heroine and hung like a horse
  • there must be alpha-male hero ass-hattery where he’s ordering everyone around/knows best, etc.
  • everyone is rich
  • dukes are littered across England like cows in a field etc, etc,

— this book is kind of a way to have your cake and eat it too. Yes, there’s a duke.  And in this book, yes, the heroine is totally focussed on saving her sister’s marriage–at first.  But it has that thing where the hero and heroine are able to navigate pathways into each other’s souls where no one else has ever tread before.  There are a few more big surprises along the way, but that pathway into another’s heart is at the juicy core.  And that’s, I guess, to me, is what romance is all about.  Everything else is totally negotiable.

Judy Davis and a star studded cast rock it in the highly entertaining if historically dubious IMPROMPTU
Judy Davis and a star studded cast rock it in the highly entertaining if historically dubious IMPROMPTU

I mean, sometimes I worry: who is this reader who likes the 6′ 5″ alpha man and the skinny heroine who just wants to please others? Is this me? Kinda.  Yeah. But do I need that kind of thing to enjoy a romance? Because I do enjoy it. UNTAMED proves to me I do not need it to enjoy a romance.  Whew!

Romances don’t have to be conventional or follow conventions to be great.  (Though it usually helps sales.) Also they’re such fantasies–being so cray-cray makes that as clear as if they were written out in day-glow ink.

Do you like any cray-cray romances? Do you have any to suggest?

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