Avon, $7.99, ISBN 978-0-06-285395-0
Historical Romance, 2018
Thomasina Thorne is an unusual heroine in that she is the steward of Enderley Castle, which belongs to the Duke of Tremayne. It’s a position traditionally held by men, and the folks in the neighborhood love to remind Mina of this. Not that being a steward is her first choice in career, but Mina understands very well how few choices are available to a woman like her in those days, and she isn’t so keen on marriage – she’d had a bad experience when it comes to following her heart, plus she has come to value the independence that comes with being a steward of a property with an absentee owner. So, being a steward is a matter of pragmatism. That and she is good at it.
Only, the previous owner has croaked, and now, the new Duke of Tremayne is coming for an audit of his new property. Worse, Nicholas Lyon has no emotional investment in his new properties, including Enderley Castle. Nick was scarred in the face by the old man and starred in his own VC Andrews melodrama when he was a kid. Now, he has made his own way up in the world, forming a gambling den catering to noble toffs and finding two buddies to make sure that there will be a trilogy at the very least for this series, and he fully intends to sell off or lease out anything that is now his and isn’t already entailed.
Yes, this is another story where being a titled gentleman means that you get nice properties and a title – nothing else, of course, as it’s like a status symbol, kind of like those football players and NBA superstars in romance novels that don’t seem to need to train or play despite their job titles. Or those lawyers and doctors who have all the time in a day to lunch, swim, have six-hour sex marathons, and take eleven months out of a year to sunbathe in Tahiti.
Oh yes, back to this story. Still, the first two chapters are intriguing. I am a sucker for roguish heroes with angst, and Mina seems like an unusual heroine who seems to know how to be practical instead of going the usual route and being a selfless martyr.
Then, the author has to insert this painfully contrived scene of Mina having to be up in a tree to retrieve a cat when Nick first meets her. Sigh. All I can think of is: “God, have we run out of ways for the hero and the heroine to meet, that the author has to pull off such an overdone scene that only serves to make the heroine look ridiculous and ensure that she is always be slightly behind in the playing field against the hero?”
The rest of A Duke Changes Everything is a downhill tumble from thereon. Mina immediately mutates into a bewildering heroine who seems to have forgotten just how much she needs to keep her job. She begins mouthing off to Nick, going all out to insist that it’s horrible that Nick will forsake the memories of his family and the legacy, blah blah blah. Why is Mina being like this? She’s not even part of the family and she thinks little of Nick’s father and older brother, so why is she so determined to “correct” Nick? Who died and made her this busybody? It’s not her place to lecture her employer, and it’s not like she doesn’t mind getting fired, as she is also predictably determined to make sure that every staff in Enderley Castle will never, ever be fired. So why is she doing the very things that can get her fired and leave the staff without a champion?
Mind you, Nick can only lease out the property. Hence, Mina will likely still have her job regardless. Therefore, what the author has done here is to set up a premise that is already resolved by chapter five, and she then fills up the rest of the story with filler – dreadfully boring and bizarre filler that comprises scenes after scenes of Mina going out of her way to get Nick to love the castle and hence stop leasing it out. Again, why does she want to do this? She’s not getting fired right away, so she doesn’t have to do anything!
A better plot would be to just focus on Nick and Mina having an affair and have the two of them developing complicated emotions that make their affair harder to manage, as heaven knows, this is probably more logical and no less unrealistic than a steward mouthing off to her employer like a nagging busybody without facing any repercussions, but I suppose the author and Avon would feel that a heroine having sex without an excuse of doing so would save the kittens is tad too prostitute-y for the average romance reader to accept.
Or, if we want to retain the current plot, why not have Nick’s father being the abusive SOB, but have Nick’s older brother a kindly man instead of another asshole? That way, Mina can have fond memories of growing up in Enderley Castle, perhaps viewing Eustace the dead brother as the brother she never had, and therefore, when Eustace dies and Nick wants nothing to do with the place, she has a valid reason to try to change his mind. Nick can still be what he is – his own issues with his father are understandably too big a chasm to be crossed, and he might have rebuffed Eustace’s efforts at reconciliation in the past because of this chasm. What I’m saying is that the author should have given Mina a genuine bond to Nick’s family and the castle, so that her actions make more sense in the context of the story.
On the bright side, Nick is a far more coherent character and his motivations are far more easier to understand and relate to. He’s also a nice hero in that he has angst, but he isn’t completely a jerk or a boor. Unfortunately, the author assumes that giving this fellow all kinds of melodramatic angst that will make a Bollywood movie fan cringe at the excesses is enough to pass for characterization. Nick has a back story, not a personality – I don’t think the author realizes that there is a difference between these two at this point in time.
All things considered, there is no reason for A Duke Changes Everything to be longer than five chapters. It should have ended with Mina and Nick shaking hands over a revised job contract before he heads back to London. So, why even come up with a premise like this for a full-length novel? I can only hope the author sits down and thinks a little bit longer about a premise that can sustain the entire novel before she works on her next book.