Avon, $7.99, ISBN 978-0-06-256678-2
Historical Romance, 2017
A Most Unlikely Duke is the best of the three stories by this author that I’ve read to date, but that’s not saying anything much, really. It’s like a broken left wrist is slightly better than a broken right wrist because I’m right handed. And really, I don’t know what the point of this story is.
This is a Pygmalion story, because every author needs to write one, or else Pennywise the Dancing Clown will jump out from under the bed and violate the author with a giant firecracker. At least, that’s what I guess, or else we wouldn’t get so many versions of such a story. Ah, but this is a gender-reversal take. The guy is the Eliza Doolittle now, how clever.
Raphe Matthews and his sisters live in a very bad part of town, after their father committed suicide when they were young and Mommy dropped them at St Giles before running off to who knows where. He supports the two girls by working at the docks by day and boxing for money at night, although the last sees him having to hand over 90% of his income to his trainer, the gangster boss Carlton Guthrie. When the story opens, Raphe agrees to take on one bad motherboxer in order to earn his freedom from Guthrie. But before that comes to be, some distant relative croaks and he is now the new Duke of Huntley! Da-da-dum, off the three go to a posh part of town.
Gabriella Radcliffe’s sister eloped with an unsuitable fellow so now it is up to her to place her bluestocking rump on the marriage block, and her parents are pushing her to marry the Earl of Fielding. She, however, is the sort who would rather pull the wings off butterflies and what not in the name of science, and she is yearning for a man to deflower her in the name of love – out of wedlock, if possible, because that’s what all respectable, virtuous virginal heroines do in romance novels. When Raphe moves in next door and is clearly in need of some social polishing, she feels sorry for him. She knows what it feels like to be looked upon like a pitiful curiosity, you know! So the big-breasted ugly girl with hideous kissable lips decides to risk her reputation to tutor a man who has one of the most powerful titles in the land, or else the handsome, hard-bodied, and now wealthy and powerful man will surely never find anyone to love him.
Let’s start with the most obvious problem: the author can’t even keep her hero’s supposedly rough cants straight. Raphe is all rough and coarse in his speech pattern, but just you look at the things this supposedly uneducated doucheburger is saying.
“Ye’re a superficial lot. Ye care only for facades and monetary worth.”
Now that’s what an authentic man from the slums will say on a good day!
A few weeks later, Gabriella manages to transform him and his sisters into polished people who speak… well, here’s something typical that post-polish Raphe will say:
“I must confess that I was surprised to hear from you, more so to receive an invitation to this fine establishment.”
Totally convincing! My mind is blown. Gabriella is truly a remarkable charm school teacher!
As for the plot, does it matter? Gabriella could have risked her reputation and her marriage to an earl… for the affections of a duke. You think her parents will have any issues with this? There is some drama about Guthrie wanting Raphe to keep his promise and go box some motherboxer, but come on, he’s a duke. Am I supposed to be at the edge of my seat because some crime lord scum will succeed in coercing a duke to do what he wants? What is that guy going to do if Raphe tells him to go suck an egg? Blow up Buckingham Palace? Raphe’s title trivializes every possible conflict in this story, often nullifying possible consequences of any dumb or reckless antic of the hero and the heroine. So there is really no point in reading this suspense-free, incredibly mundane story of a guy who inherits a title, trivial stuff happens, and everyone lives happily ever after, the end.
And to top it all off, the entire story feels artificial as can be, thanks to the author not even getting the hero’s transformation right.
Therefore, as I’ve said, I don’t really see the point of this story. It doesn’t have any credible conflict, character development, or romance. Maybe the author and the publisher just want a reason to chop down more trees, I suppose. At any rate, buy this one if you are a member of the author’s family and she keeps calling you every other day to ask whether you’ve read it, but everyone else may want to wait and see if there are more interesting books to buy.