by Julie Anne Long, historical (2011)
Avon, $7.99, ISBN 978-0-06-188568-6
What I Did For A Duke is a cozy historical romance. There are no spies, no dead bodies, no French frogs running wild, nothing but romance and only the romance. It looks like this kind of romances hasn't become extinct after all.
Alexander Moncrieffe, the Duke of Falconbridge, is thought by all to be a cold and heartless man who poisoned his wife. When he finds Ian Eversea in bed with his fiancée, he decides to pay the Everseas a visit. His plan is to seduce Genevieve, Ian's sister, and then dump her, as payback for Ian's antics. However, Genevieve is more than a match for him despite the twenty-year gap between their ages - she is thought by all to be sensible and proper to the point that people can't help but to take her for granted, but it isn't long before these two realize that they are very well-matched once they have peeled off each other's exterior. Genevieve believes herself to be in love with her best friend Harry, the neighborhood hunk, so Moncrieffe isn't going to just waltz in and knock her off her feet so easily.
Don't worry too much about the revenge bit - this story doesn't follow a predictable route, which is a big part of its charm. The characters are well drawn and most fascinating. Moncrieffe may seem like a stereotypical misunderstood nobleman hero, but as the story progresses, he turns out to be a far more complicated character. It's the same with Genevieve: she too is a more complicated character than she may seem to be at first. In fact, it is Genevieve, not Moncrieffe, who experiences the most character growth of those two. She's young, and there are many moments when she does act young, so readers who are impatient with heroines who take a while to become all mellow and sweet may want to be approach carefully. I feel, however, that Genevieve feels like a real and fascinating young lady.
The story sparkles with humor and fine games of verbal thrusts between our main characters. The initial "courtship" of Moncrieffe is delicious to follow, as both he and Genevieve exude plenty of sizzling chemistry and sexual tension. Ms Long allows both characters to play on a somewhat level playing field despite their age gap - never is Genevieve gullible or naïve. In fact, she very easily guesses at his revenge plan and calls him out on it.
What I Did For A Duke stumbles a bit, however, in the later stages of the story. This is a slow story, as the characters spend a long time having picnics and talking during dinner, but I don't mind the slow pace much as the characters are riveting to follow. My problem is with how the main characters sometimes act in ways that seem out of character. Genevieve seems to believe in love, even telling Moncrieffe that love finds one instead of the other way around, so her willingness to have sex with Moncrieffe while pining for Harry seems... odd. I'd love to know whether Genevieve compartmentalizes sex and love in two different sections in her heart or it's some other reason for this kind of behavior on her part. I've read this story twice and I'm still not sure how Moncrieffe transformed from an adorable somewhat cynical fellow to this melodramatic martyr for love. Sure, his antics are quite romantic, but I can't wondering whether I am missing a few scenes that could have explained the transition better. Love makes fools of everyone, yes, but things happen a bit too abruptly here for my liking.
Nonetheless, this is a very nice cozy romantic read. What I Did For A Duke dares to be different from the usual formula - and with this book coming from a publisher like Avon, this is most impressive indeed - and does a solidly good job at entertaining me at the same time. I just love the chemistry and the romance, so yes, this one's alright with me.
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