Harlequin Historical, $6.50, ISBN 978-0-373-29844-0
Historical Romance, 2015
Don’t be fooled by the title Griffin Stone: Duke of Decadence into thinking that this is some kind of erotically-charged romance. Like the other books in the Dangerous Dukes series, the Dukes in question are secret agent sorts out to catch spies and such. Although, “secret agents” may not be an accurate phrase to use here, as the heroes in question are not exactly subtle or cunning. They are more like action figures, good to have around when you want muscle power to smash things and such.
The plot is pretty simple. Griffin Stone, the Duke of Rotherham, is also an action hero on the hunt for the guy who plotted to murder the Prince Regent recently and, in the resulting chaos, help herald the return of Napoleon to power. Jacob Harker is being elusive, however. Well, the hunt may have to wait when, as Griffin is brooding in his phaeton one night, a woman in her nightgown dashes in front of his vehicle and… oops. Seeing that she has wounds on her, wounds that are caused by something worse than the accident, he decides to take this mysterious woman back to his place for some medical attention. The woman comes to with little memory about her past or how she ended up running in the woods that night. As Griffin tries to get down to the bottom of this mystery, he is also inconveniently attracted to her. But oh, he had been married before and his huge size all over scared the wife into the arms of another lover, so oh, he’d never love again, et cetera.
Given how easily distracted Griffin is by his emotions and erection, I have my doubts about him being even halfway decent as a spy, but then again, his comrades aren’t the smartest either, so perhaps these guys are better off thought of as glorified bouncers. Then again, the author has the previous heroes all drop out of the whole “catch the French spies” thing because knocking up the new wife takes priority over national security, so yes, this is one series where the spy plot is just an excuse the get the couple together. Don’t expect logic or sophisticated plotting, in other words. If you are not convinced, look no further than the fact that, despite the fact that there is a French spy on the loose, the thoughts of the hero and the heroine soon become entirely focused on (a) how the hero can keep the heroine safe and (b) how soon and when can they get frisky with one another. National security – who cares? Sex and love – that’s what we’re all here for, baby!
If you can accept that, then you’d find this story to be a standard rescue fantasy, with the heroine existing solely to be coddled and protected by the big strong men around her. She has not much personality or any realistic emotion other than a desire to love and be loved by the hero. Oh, and she also wants to save the world by letting herself be used by bait, although when the hero is understandably concerned at this (she has never demonstrated any ability to take care of herself up to the point), she actually tells him that she’d do whatever she wants and he can’t stop her. Really! Our heroine, therefore, has two modes here: helpless doll and bratty teenager.
Meanwhile, Griffin is the standard beefcake hero with little to set him apart from other examples of the overprotective hero archetype, and his tacked-on issue about the late wife only reveals how one-dimensional he is as a character.
Still, there is some campy fun element to the plot. Even if the romance is the least interesting aspect of the story, the cackling villains – who also happen to be the sole physically repugnant types in this story, as good is beautiful, don’t forget that – have their moments.
That doesn’t mean I’d recommend this book to anyone, though. It’s linear, the narrative can be clumsy at places, and the humor is often unintentional. But on the bright side, no one would die from this book, as long as expectations are kept to the minimum.