Grand Central Publishing, $7.99, ISBN 978-1-4789-1856-1
Historical Romance, 2018
The hairstyle of the guy on the cover cracks me up. I can’t take it – and him – seriously. But then again, I can’t take A Duke in the Night at all. It’s not that Kelly Bowen is a terrible writer, at least where style is concerned. It’s just that there are so many things about this story that don’t make sense in the context of the 1820s that the author may as well be writing a story set in Teletubby Land. Or whatever place that Grease comes from – the hero’s hair will fit right in.
Okay, I’ll be giving the synopsis, so please bear with me – just remember that all the weird stuff is courtesy of the author, not me.
August Faulkner, the Duke of Holloway, is happily making a lot of money by buying up various parcels of land and developing them for profit. Noblemen in this story are like Greek billionaires, by the way, they don’t sit in Parliaments or do nobleman stuff, they make lots of money so that the heroine will never have to live in poverty. How awesome is that? So, in this one, when he learns that Clara Hayward is selling her exclusive and very successful Haverhall School for Young Ladies, he immediately gobbles it up – without letting her know that he is the new owner, of course – as he knows that the land can be developed into something profitable. I’m not sure why keeping the supposedly super successful school open won’t be profitable, but if he thinks that way, there will be no reason for the drama that will happen late in the story.
Curious as to why Clara will sell such a successful venture, he makes a few investigations and learns the reason why. It’s the same old story: Clara’s brother is running the shipping business to the ground (maybe because he’s far more interested in being a doctor) and her sister is doing her art thing, and apparently only Clara is sensible enough to realize that things are in dire straits where the shipping business is concerned. Of course, we can’t have the big brother or younger sister drop their own interests and contribute to the family finances, oh no, so it is up to Clara to voluntarily sell the school to give the doomed shipping business a bit more time.
And like most romance heroines’ successful ventures, their money is vapor. Where did all the money from Clara’s successful business go? Did she stupidly hand the dough to her brother? Did her clients not pay her? If her school is so successful and popular, and her students all adore her, can’t she ask for some discreet favors from her former students? No, just like how August is a duke but doesn’t have to act like one, Clara has a school but it seems to be a magical school that has no impact on her finances at all despite its success – it will however be an excuse for her to go, “Oh, I can’t be seen having sexy time with a duke if I want to somehow be a teacher again in the future!” for ten minutes before putting out in the name of true love and then refusing to marry the hero no matter what because she’s so independent and feisty like that.
So, anyway, now August decides to go ask Clara’s brother if he’d sell the whole business to August. That way, everyone wins! Before he can do that, his sister runs off to join Clara’s final class because she’s not happy that August is pushing her to marry well. I have my doubts about Anne wanting to avoid such a predicament by running off to a finishing school, and I’m not sure why August is not pleased at all that his sister is off to a school that from all appearances will polish her up to do the very thing he wants of her, but hey, by now, we need something to get the plot going. So, off he goes to find Clara, convinced that Clara and Anne are in it all along and that… Clara has been taunting him all along about this plot and she somehow wants him to go look for her sister? Oh silly me, there I go again, wondering about logic.
It gets even more bizarre. Clara runs a super popular school… that teaches controversial topics that she doesn’t even bother to hide. So how is this school popular again, if it grooms its students to be wide-eyed bluestockings? And for someone who supposedly knows all about the ways of Society, our heroine is shocked and dismayed that August intends to find a bride that can bring good things into the marriage. She is disappointed in him because he is not letting his sister run off and do her own thing regardless of societal norms. Here’s the thing: the most interaction she’s had prior to seeing him again as an adult is him dancing with her to win a bet. She has no reason to think of him as a nice guy, and yet, she somehow does… maybe because he’s hot and she’s grasping at reasons to jump his bones without coming too much like a sex-loving prostitute to romance readers. Eventually, inevitably, in the name of true love, our very proper heroine is completely okay with premarital sex – damn the potential consequences, it’s true love baby!
In addition to Clara putting on a very twenty-first century outlook into an 1820s setting, she is actually a false reformer. She rails about how terrible it is that she is not ravished by handsome hunks left and right because she is too educated, but instead of carrying out reforms, she is sabotaging other young girls to be just like her. Instead of doing something to change her plight after getting money from her booming business, she is still stuck in a rut, needing the hero to tell her that he loves her so that she can move on with her life. Along the way, she behaves like an entitled brat, getting all upset because the hero doesn’t see the world like she sees it after she demands him to.
And yes, the final conflict is how she is furious that he doesn’t tell her that he’s the new owner of her school and that he intends to develop the land. Newsflash: she voluntarily sold it. She has no claim on it anymore. To act like she does… well, it only reinforces what an entitled Miss Thing she is. She claims to be a blue, ostracized bluestocking, but she comes off instead as someone playing the martyr for attention and validation, and then throwing a tantrum when she doesn’t get it.
I can go on and on, but I think I’d better stop here or I’d still be here in a month down the road. A Duke in the Night is a complete misfire from start, a story designed to incorporate all the bestselling tropes in order to play it safe, only this time the tropes are put together in ways that make no sense at all. One oogie.