Grand Central Publishing, $5.99, ISBN 978-1-4555-6337-1
Historical Romance, 2016
A Duke to Remember is part of the A Season for Scandal series, revolving around the intrepid staff of Chegarre & Associates. Think Olivia Pope & Associates, only we take out all the black people and replace them with spunky white chicks and brooding heroes that are trying their best to look edgy and sexy. Similar to the previous book Duke of My Heart, this one has an unconventional heroine who takes no prisoners, and – unfortunately – similar to the previous book, the hero just doesn’t measure up. Is there some kind of cosmic rule that there is only a limited amount of brainpower to be shared between two main characters in a romance novel?
Elise deVries is… well, brace yourself, the author has pumped her full of awesome. She’s a talented actress and a mistress of disguise – when she dresses up as a bloke, you’d swear that she sucker-punched you with a fist full of testosterone. She used to be the best tracker – the best! – when England went to war to teach those brassy idiots living in America who the real boss is. And now, her latest gig sees her trying to track down the long lost heir to the title and possessions of the Duke of Ashland. She needs Noah Ellery, the new duke, to come back so that he can wrest control from his evil cousin and free his mother, whom the evil cousin had sent to Bedlam and ordered to be tortured, er, “treated”. Except, the man now living as Noah Lawson, blacksmith, doesn’t want to go back to that life.
Here’s the thing: if Noah doesn’t go back with Elise, an old lady is going to die under the most painful and miserable conditions. Noah knows very well what it is like in Bedlam, and regardless of any animosity he may harbor for his family, there is no way the author is going to get Noah to refuse to go back with Elise without making that guy look like a wad of used toilet paper. And yet, if the author has Noah going back with Elise to London, then this book would be about half its current length. So it is up to poor Noah to dutifully play the role of the used toilet paper, and the poor guy never really recovered from that in my eyes. Oh, someone’s life is at stake? LISTEN TO HIM, LOOK AT HIM, HE IS SUFFERING THE MOST – what with him being surrounded by friends and living in a home cleaned and tended to by a housekeeper. I’d think the author could have at least make him empty chamber pots with his bare hands for a living in order to make him look less like a clogged toilet. Oh well.
Noah’s recalcitrance isn’t the only thing here that feels like filler to prolong the story, although the other types of filler are nowhere as self-sabotaging as this one. Still, they do make me scratch my head. For example, Elise talks to Noah’s sister – who hired the agency to look for her mother – before she leaves to look for Noah, and she asks her very basic questions about the family that should have already been asked during the first few meetings. Okay, maybe I can imagine that Elise just wants to refresh her memory. Even then, I am taken aback when Elise meets Noah – by chance, of course – and then she decides that she needs time to plan how to approach him with the truth. Wait, she didn’t plan beforehand how to do this? Elise is supposed to be the best… and she takes off to look for a guy – who turns out to be exactly whom and where she imagined him to be – without preparing in advance how to enlist his cooperation? I find that hard to believe.
The story picks up greatly in the late third or so, when Elise and Noah get back to London and things finally kick into action. That part is most readable, but it’s a bit too late for me. Too much of the book feels like filler up to that point. I’m glad that Elise stays consistently in character without having to be forced to be weak or weepy like some authors like to do to their “strong heroines”, but I’m perplexed by how unwilling the author seems to be at having Elise actually demonstrate some of the many kick-ass virtues and skills the author has appended to her. The most glaring example is how, for all Elise is lauded to be the best – BEST! – tracker in England, the author has her bumping by chance into Noah. Why make the heroine out to be some kind of superstar if she’s just going to do more articulating and gesturing than kicking rear ends?
A Duke to Remember is worth a look, I feel, if you like unconventional heroines that are not forced by the author into more contrived “feminine” boxes. Alas, it is also unfortunately one of those books which look perfectly okay at the surface… until you think a bit harder about it and things start falling apart at the seams.