Hey, fellow book lovers! Welcome back to the blog series, “Book Birthday Recap,” where we celebrate a particular book’s birthday by offering a recap of what the book is about and some thoughts on it.
Published four years ago on April 11, 2017, “Duels & Deception” by author Cindy Anstey came out. Considered to be her second novel, “Duels & Deception” follows Lydia Whitfield, a girl who seems to have her whole life planned out after her father passes.
Whitfield decides to draw up her marriage contract to Lord Aldershot, whom her father chose for her to marry before his passing. She hires a law clerk, Robert Newton, to help her do so.
Understanding this is how her life will play out, she tries her best to earn a way to provide for her family without thinking about what she truly wants out of life.
Her expectations and reality of life seem to be great, up until the moment when she and Newton are kidnapped.
Realizing someone is after her family fortune, Whitfield keeps the event from the public’s eye since it could taint her family’s name. With the help of Newton, Whitfield starts an investigation to see who was behind the kidnapping. Her perfect plans go out the window when she realizes she wants more in life than just being a devoted housewife to a man she doesn’t love.
Within the first few pages of the novel, I could tell part of Whitfield’s characterization would include keen observation. Knowing this fact, I could envision Whitfield’s involvement in the kidnapping and that the mystery of who did it would be intertwined since her key trait could help solve the mystery.
I wasn’t even 20 pages into the book when I fell in love with Whitfield’s characterization. She exemplifies a force to be reckoned with, despite only being 18-years-old. Considering the time period of the novel, it’s no wonder others find her to be “bothersome,” when the best word to use to describe her is “fierce.”
After the death of her father, Whitfield seems to feel as though she must take on the role of watching over her family. This aspect is clear in the novel, especially when she decides to marry Lord Aldershot in order to allow her family to stay in Roseberry Manor.
The first piece of dialogue between Whitfield and her uncle is not the warm gesture you’d expect to see between an uncle and a niece. Her first interaction with her uncle and how he perceives her driving skills to be “horrendous” are clear signs of not having a warm relationship with him. It’s easy to see how Whitfield is considered to be the eccentric one of her family, even before reading about the other Whitfields.
When reading about the other Whitfields, such as Mrs. Whitfield, I found the dependency that Mrs. Whitfield has on her daughter to be contradictory to her role as a mother. This can be seen in the scene where she’s asking Whitfield how she should act.
This could explain the aspect of Whitfield wanting to marry a man she doesn’t love in order to secure her family staying at Roseberry Hall. What Whitfield fails to realize is that she is the daughter, and she deserves to be with someone she loves and not marry for the sake of giving her family a roof over their heads.
Written in the style of a mystery novel, Anstey provides key clues that aid in figuring out who did the deed of kidnapping Whitfield and Newton. One of the main clues included throughout the novel is the way each chapter is titled. Instead of the common two to three phrases, each chapter’s title is a sentence, giving an abstract view of what the chapter is about. This gives the chapters a sense of being pieces of a puzzle. To finish the picture, the audience must continue to read to collect all the clues. I found this to be a well-written aspect, considering the novel as a whole is part of the mystery genre.
I found some aspects of “Duels & Deception” to be reminiscent of other novels that have similar motifs. One instance is during the first dialogue exchange between Newton and Whitfield. This reminded me of Audrey Rose and Thomas Cresswell from Kerri Maniscalco’s “Stalking Jack the Ripper” series. Similar to Maniscalco, Anstey is able to foreshadow Newton’s involvement in Whitfield’s life by mentioning how comfortable she is with him and how it’s not normal for her to speak so freely to strangers.
As a person living in the 21st century, I thought it was funny to see how 19th century flirting was back then in comparison to modern flirting techniques, which consist of cheesy pick-up lines and one-night stands.
It’s clear Whitfield does her best to cover up any facts of her abduction since she wants to distract society’s eye, even though she is not to blame for what occurred. Still, the only way Whitfield sees the kidnapping is as a way to tarnish her family’s name.
The pressures society enforces on Whitfield are so annoying, sometimes to the point where she can’t even tell her own mother she was abducted for fear of what society may think about her and Newton being alone without a chaperone.
It’s times like these where I appreciate I was born in the 21st century.
The way the details of the novel’s time period are written is very intricate and vivid. Some of these include the descriptions of the types of gowns women wore, to the traditional reason for Whitfield’s father wanting his daughter to marry a Lord.
“Duels & Deception” is filled with all types of characters, one being Mavis Caudle. When introduced to Caudle, I was secretly in love with her. Caudle’s clear intentions of going to Roseberry Hall are to make use of her “personal library” by always borrowing Whitfield’s books. Caudle had no intentions of being friends with Whitfield. She only wanted access to a vast range of books. I honestly felt this.
During the introduction to Caudle, I can tell she’s a woman who knows exactly what she wants and gets it despite what others think. However, it is later brought to light that a woman like her can be dangerous…
Drawing back to reality, I smiled when I saw the reference of “Lady’s Magazine” included in the book. I really enjoyed this small detail because it offers a nod to successful and powerful women during this time period, like the magazine’s editor, Sarah Josepha Hale, and even Whitfield herself.
Probably one of the times when I wanted to scream was when Whitfield was having a “breakdown.” She had many uncertainties and doubts about breaking off the engagement with Lord Aldershot. As I was reading this, all I wanted to do was reach into the book, shake Whitfield, and scream: “IT’S OKAY NOT TO FOLLOW YOUR DEAD FATHER’S WISHES!! HE’S DEAD!! GO LIVE YOUR LIFE, WOMAN!!”
One of the many aspects of “Duels & Deception” I was thrilled to note was how the characters grew as individuals. This even includes the snobby Mrs. Whitfield, who finally realized society shouldn’t deem what’s proper.
As a whole, the novel offers many themes of being true to yourself and has a powerful woman as one of the leads. Who says in different time periods there can’t be a strong woman?