by Carla Capshaw, historical (2010)
Steeple Hill Books, $5.50, ISBN 978-0-373-82828-9
Carla Capshaw's The Duke's Redemption is a far more successful story if I compare it to The Gladiator, mostly because there are some strong believable romantic elements and the characters don't behave too much like modern-day missionaries reenacting the past. But this story also tackles a spy subplot, and that's where the whole thing falls apart dramatically.
Elise Cooper is our South Carolina heroine who is working for her stepfather Zechariah as a spy for the rebels who aren't just content with dumping tea into the ocean. Unfortunately for readers who like to read about female spies that are actually competent, Elise has the double whammy of being touted as one of the best by Ms Capshaw but behaving instead more like... well, the rest. For one, she genuinely doesn't take into consideration that being a spy may mean getting her hands bloody. In the opening of this story, she discovers that the person she thought to be a trusted ally is actually a traitor working for the English (this spy happily tells her everything about his plans for some reason). In the ensuing fight, a gun accidentally goes off and that loose-lipped spy dies. Elise then goes into a predictable "Oh no! Jesus forgive me, I am a murderer!" drama.
Our hero is Drake Amberly, the Duke of Hawk Haven. He's English, naturally. His brother was that loser who died in the above paragraph, and now Drake is in South Carolina, seeking this spy "Fox" and wanting to see Fox hang for his brother's death. Naturally, he uses his real name when he's supposed to be undercover. He's not a spy, though, so I guess I can't be too hard on him for that. On the other hand, the spy network that Elise belongs to apparently can't give too much care about the identity of the spy that died in front of Elise because they didn't do any follow-up on tracking down that fellow's identity. Luckily for Drake, therefore, these brilliant spies of the colonies have no idea that Drake Amberly is the brother of the dead loser spy that couldn't keep his mouth shut.
Because Elise is the best spy around, Drake has a very good idea where to locate Fox, and sure enough, Drake meets Elise shortly upon his arrival at a house party. He is soon haunted by nightly visions of Elise - Ms Capshaw is coy about the nature of these dreamtime visions, so I can only presume that they involve Elise reading the bible aloud or something - and before I know it, these two are in love. He wants to marry her. Meanwhile, Elise demonstrates her competency as the best spy in the market by carrying important documents along with her on her date with Drake, leaving behind those documents in his carriage, and letting me know that her close friends all know of her identity as the Fox. Will it be a "personal attack" if I say aloud here that I don't think Ms Capshaw has read any halfway decent spy stories before, because she won't have Elise doing such nonsense if she had?
Speaking of close friends that know of Elise's identity as the Fox, my goodness, that constantly laughing, giggling, and bouncing heavily pregnant monster known as Tabby is that rare secondary character that has me wishing to see her dead two seconds into her first appearance in this story. Not only is she obnoxious, she is the most illogical kind of matchmaking character - the one that knows of Elise's identity as the Fox and that Drake is hiding something, but who decides nonetheless that Elise and Drake are perfect for each other because she just knows upon having met Drake for all of ten seconds. Let me just say that I am not surprised that Tabby ends up being one of the many crutches that drag Elise into trouble late in the story. Tabby is, after all, such an obvious plot contrivance to the point of being supremely obnoxious.
I can go on for a long time more about the many plot holes and logical black holes in the spy aspect of this story, but I'm sure you have a good enough idea by this point that you shouldn't read this book expecting even a halfway credible spy subplot. I am also disappointed by how the author sweeps some issues under the rug. For example, we have an English aristocrat hero and an American heroine. When Elise moves to England to be Drake's wife, does this mean she converted to the Church of England? In this book, though, the characters all belong to a single universal church called "Christian". And then, we have the author reducing the extent of Elise's reason to be a spy into a predictably personal one: she is one only because she is hoping to get her stepfather to release her half-sister, a slave girl named Prin. By allowing the heroine to keep her hands free from blood as well as political ideology, Ms Capshaw has Elise comes off as a victim and a martyr instead of an activist with a cause. Not only does the lack of complexity or historically true conflicts in our hero and heroine's relationship make me wonder whether Jesus approves of the American Revolution in the context of this story, I also find this story disappointingly artificial.
It is the romance that saves the story from receiving the same score as the author's previous book. Drake starts out as a potential stereotype as he is blue over the women in his past, but he manages to avoid falling into that trap, thanks to the author allowing him to open himself to love again despite his issues with the women in his past. For all of Elise's flaws as a spy, she does have a pretty good backbone where Drake is concerned: she doesn't let him go too much like an average Greek tycoon from a Harlequin Presents book on her. The author introduces some sensible and mature resolution to their trust issues, and as a result, I can believe that these two have a real and solid romance between them.
Still, that doesn't make up for the fact that The Duke's Redemption is a shallow and artificial story with much of the issues that will stand between the hero and the heroine swept under the carpet. Factoring this along with the hideously inept handling of the spy subplot and the presence of Tabby the worst secondary character I've read in a long time, I can only consider The Duke's Redemption an average read at best. Still, it's a vast improvement over The Gladiator. If the author would do a little bit more instead of just making her books wallpaper historical romances with Christian elements, who knows, I may actually like her books one of these days.
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