Avon, $7.99, ISBN 978-0-06-239776-8
Historical Romance, 2017
I suppose this is one of those things that happen only once every ten years. Lenora Bell’s last two books were solid squalid one-oogie stinkers where I am concerned, but Blame It on the Duke is a revelation. I’ve read this book twice, just to be sure that I didn’t have some kind of mental paralysis the first time around, passed away from the pain, and somehow imagined that I read a good story. No, it’s true – the second reading assures me that I wasn’t imagining that I liked this book. I do, I really do.
Not that this story is anywhere near groundbreaking. We have another debauched rake sort – Nicolas, the Marquess of Hatherly and a future duke – who thinks that he is a most unsuitable person for a woman to get married to. Not because he is riddled with every STD known to man, but because the men in his family all go mad eventually, so if he’s going to go mad, he’s going to go mad with a bang. Or a few thousand bangs. Now, you may be thinking that copulating indiscriminately with prostitutes may just give him syphilis and the madness he thinks he’d develop, but remember, romance heroes are immune to STDs, just like they are immune to poverty, erectile dysfunction, and obesity regardless of the lifestyle they choose to lead.
In an actually amusing chapter-opener, Nick learns that his addled father had spent some time at a gambling house where the stakes tend to be high… and the man lost the family home. The father, smart man, can’t bear to lose his beloved house, so he offers an alternative to the winner: he’d give away his son instead! The man who won the game, Sir Alfred Tombs, is looking for a suitable husband for his daughter Alice, who is determined to stay on the shelf in the usual “Give me love or give me… anything but a husband!” stunt every other romance heroine loves to pull, and it looks like he’s landed the big one. So now, Nick and Alice are going to married. Yes, he could dispute this matter in court, but Nick believes that dragging out the matter will only embarrass and hurt his father. Besides, Alice may just has the solution for the two of them,
Alice is your typical bookworm sort who wants to go to India to compile naughty books on sex stuff, which she is studying in a scholarly manner, naturally. Alas, her plans to travel is foiled when her brother, whom she is banking on to help her get out of her parents’ supervision, decides to elope with some unsuitable lady instead, leaving her without a plan B. Well, Nick could be her plan B. They will marry, but they will both go their own way and do their own thing after the grand day. That way, everyone wins! Of course, things get complicated when these two know one another better.
Now, much of Blame It on the Duke is familiar to readers who have read enough historical romances of this sort. The author has done something remarkable here, however: no matter how my brain recognizes the tropes in this story, they all still feel interesting and even fresh. The characters are nicely balanced in that they have both wise and silly moments, and their emotions come off as remarkably believable and tender underneath the comedic overtones permeating the story. Nick and Alice appear as “Ugh, another one!” kind of stereotypes on paper – the oversexed rake and the bookish bluestocking respectively – but as their story progresses, I start to get emotionally invested in their story, because they feel real enough to me.
The author also manages to make her characters’ interactions feel different and believable. Both characters address their issues in a way that I feel is to a satisfying enough degree to convince me that they will be alright in the long run. There are no contrived moments of dumb dumb behavior, which is actually quite odd considering how there was no shortage of such tomfoolery in the author’s previous two books, and Alice even gets a happy ending that does not see her having to choose between her dreams and her man. Everything falls in place here nicely for me – the humor works, the emotional moments work too, and even the risque sexy stuff fits right in instead of coming off as gimmicky.
Therefore, I’ve had a great time reading this book. I still can’t believe that Blame It on the Duke is written by the same author that wrote those awful two books that came before this one! And I am still shocked at how tempted I am to give this one five oogies. Still, I feel that there is one too many drama crammed late into the story that jettisons the pacing somewhat, so I’m afraid there will be no five oogies today. But if the author keeps this up, someday I may have to give them up. I’m actually looking forward to that day, so… bring it on?