Zebra, $7.99, ISBN 978-1-4201-4392-8
Historical Romance, 2018
A Devil of a Duke is almost a comedy – almost, that is. If you’re like me, having read romance novels of all flavors for a long time now, you must have surely come across some stories that would have been so, so good if the author hadn’t insisted on following the formula and coming up with characters with personalities and tendencies that are not compatible with the story at all. This is one of those stories. With a hero like Gabriel St James, the Duke of Langford and a heroine like Amanda Waverly, the Dumbass of Cow-ford, this story doesn’t work at all.
I’m told that Amanda is brilliant, because she was raised by very brilliant thieves… which is why she is quietly and meekly being blackmailed by some villain who will put her mother behind bars or worse if she didn’t do as was told. Oh, the author tries very hard to tell me that Amanda is planning something, she is sassy and ballsy, but what I actually get is still a damsel in distress that needs a man to come in and clean up her mess for her. Anyway, her latest “gig” – the last one, she swears, and we all know how that will go, don’t we? – sees her attending a masked ball and trying her best to seduce some bloke.
Of course, she doesn’t plan to seduce him 100%, even if she plans to run off to America and start life anew, which means that her hymen isn’t going to be that precious, but I suppose that the author will rather have readers consider her heroine a moron than a slut, so here we go. Another heroine with a half-baked seduction plot, when her seduction tactics make her look as alluring as a dyspeptic walrus. So, the heroine is forced to do bad things and she is incapable of getting her hands and other body parts dirty to extricate herself out of trouble. All this just to demonstrate that while the heroine is one deck short of a bankrupt Subway outlet, she’s chaste and virtuous and god damn it, that is all that matters, hallelujah and praise the lord. Hence, she’s exactly what readers want and need. With that out of the way, let’s move on.
Gabriel is the sexiest slag ever, seducing everything and anything female by just breathing, and he’s also scandalous and improper, blah blah blah… yes, another one of those heroes, and we are already salivating because that twenty-inch savior of all womankind is a buffet of love viruses. He’s the hero readers want and need, so that’s out of the way too.
He’s the brother of the bozo our heroine is trying her best to seduce while tightly clutching her thighs to ensure that she will only put out to the hero. Yes, really, this is another story where the heroine puts out the hero pretty easily, as if she’s a woman on the streets whose rent is due tomorrow, but she’s putting out to her one true love so that’s okay. Our hero is intrigued by the heroine, or so I’m told, and I have to be told because the heroine’s apparent wit and ass that charms Gabriel come off on the pages like the yammering of someone trying way too hard to appear sassy. The rest of the story sees the hero doing everything, while the heroine exists mostly as a dull, lifeless prop for the hero to show off his sexual and other manly man prowess to the readers. When the heroine does act on her own, she’s generally ignoring common sense or sensible advice to… you guess it, get into trouble and need rescuing.
For what it’s worth, A Devil of a Duke feels like a book written by an author whose focus and heart weren’t in it. The narrative is full of dry and uninteresting exposition and information dump, and the characters are lifeless pastiches of romance novel clichés. I’m told that the two characters are smitten with one another, but that’s all there is to it – I’m just told. The story has a mechanical by-the-numbers let’s-get-this-over-with feel to it, and I am bored as a result.
It also doesn’t help that the author’s insistence on following her formula of writing stories that focus only on the hero as the sexiest slut ever, with a heroine who is always going to be in a position of weakness in order to accentuate the hero’s positive virtues, ends up compromising the story itself. As I’ve mentioned earlier, there is no reason why a supposedly pragmatic heroine who plans to start life anew among strangers in America will care so much about remaining chaste – doing so makes Amanda look like a nitwit. It’s impossible to take her seriously when she’s not a character as much as a laundry list of traits designed to appeal to readers who prioritize the double standards of the genre over organic story development. The fact that the London version of a Kardashian pretty boy like Gabriel can successfully and effectively take over and clean up the mess of this supposedly super-smart woman trained by super-smart thief parents… the author is having a laugh at my expense, right?
A Devil of a Duke is only successful in being completely faithful to some of the silliest tropes of the romance genre, even if doing so comes at the expense of logic and entertaining storytelling. I’d be amused if I hadn’t paid money for this thing.