by Juliana Gray, historical/paranormal (2013)
Berkley, $7.99, ISBN 978-0-425-25118-8
If you have not read the first book in the series, A Lady Never Lies, do read that one first. The bulk of each of the three books in the series take place at the same time, so it is best that you read the first book, at the very least. This is because there are some scenes in both books that are like pieces of a jigsaw puzzle. Only when you have both pieces, so to speak, you see the big picture and go, "Ooh!"
Okay, the synopsis is going to seem positively horrifying, so let me say first that, really, things aren't as bad as they seem to be. Ready?
Abigail Harewood accompanies her sister Alexandra, the Lady Morley, and their cousin Lilibet, Lady Somerset, in what turns out to be a comedy of errors of sorts when the ladies find themselves booked in the same run-down castle as three men. Oh, read all about it in my review of the first book. Here, Abigail turns out to be completely wrong for her name as she decides to seduce the Duke of Wallingford into being her first lover.
You see, having seen the sad state of the marriages of her sister and her cousin, Abigail has decided that she would never marry. Instead, she would live "unconventionally", taking lovers and doing her own thing. For some reason, taking a lover takes precedence over other things in her to-do wish (hormones, I guess) so she goes around kissing stable hands and footmen like a very serious Simon Cowell looking for the next big teen act that will make him lots and lots of money.
Wallingford by all accounts is an unrepentant rake, so he won't be clingy or inconvenient once she's done with him, so really, he's perfect. The gentleman in question begs to differ, of course, and so the game is on.
The novelty of a young lady leading the chase makes for an interesting change of pace, and I have to say: this book is truly hilarious. I find myself laughing out loud through so many scenes in the first two-thirds of this book, I can't help but to be charmed by the silly twosome of Wallingford and Abigail. They aren't the deepest characters, as this story is more about farce than complex relationships, but they are so amusing together. When he tells her his name, her reaction is priceless. The first sex scene is truly, truly funny as it... well, you have to read it yourself. The author's comic timing is impeccable here, and I especially love how the humor also gently pokes fun at conventional tropes of historical romances.
It is during the late third that things collapse spectacularly. There are two reasons for this.
One, the previous two books in the series have been straightforward historical romances, but this one cranks up the paranormal elements. It's disconcerting to consider this book in the same context as the other two books in the series. Think of this as, oh, watching the TV series Scandal where for a while it has been a campy and over the top but entertaining political soap opera with Mission: Impossible elements. Then, late in the season, Olivia Pope discovers that she is a vampire slayer and President Grant is a vampire secretly leading the good fanged-faces against an evil alien reptilian army wearing human disguises led by the evil Mellie...
There are some hints to the paranormal elements early in this story, but they are also presented in a way that can also suggest that they are the product of Abigail's active imagination. Therefore, once I thought I knew the rules of the setting, I find myself taken aback when the woo-woo tidal wave crashes upon me without much warning. Fine, I can always adjust my expectations, but I can't do anything about how the woo-woo thing is easily one of the most convoluted explanation the author can come up with to justify why the three couples can end up staying at the same place. I think I'd be far happier with a more mundane explanation, such as, say, the owner of the castle is a swindler who has absconded with the funds and is now living the high life somewhere in Belize.
After that, I hit problem number two. The story ends shortly after it enters its late third, but the author keeps going, padding the story with scenes of separation, reunion, silly hand-wringing, and other stuff that only drags out the story without actually adding anything of value.
I give A Duke Never Yields lots of love for making me laugh until my sides ache, but honestly, the late third of this book is simply too appalling for words.
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