Avon, $7.99, ISBN 978-0-06-249945-5
Historical Romance, 2019
Thomas Edward O’Connell Cúchulain Powell, the Earl of Langdon and the heir of the Duke of Northfield when this story opens, is no stranger to debauchery as he is, after all, a privileged dude. The author uses that word, “privileged”, to describe Thomas as a way to contrast him to the heroine Lucia Marini, so yes, this is going to be one of those stories. But we’ll get into that a little later. I’m sure everyone is dying for the synopsis.
So, Thomas. His full name is meaningful because it reveals that he has Irish DNA and his angst at being called Irish in an insulting manner is his baggage. Anyway, after winning a duel with some bloke, he is introduced by his friend to the Orchid Club. Unlike what its name would suggest – just look at the shape of an orchid flower – this isn’t a brothel. No, it’s better than that: it’s an orgy club where all is welcome. LGBTQWTHARUBAWOO okay, whether you are a dairy maid or a duke also okay, just come in and start going down baby, there are bouncers to beat the hell of you if you do things without getting the others to fully consent (maybe they have a secret consent handshake or something) and best of all – you pay whatever you want as an entry free.
I’m surprised that this place isn’t swarmed by homeless people in London looking for a place to sleep and some food to eat. Without doubt, this is the one and only successful socialist enterprise in the history of human civilization.
Of course, Thomas falls for the mysterious but sexy manager, Amina, who is actually Lucia Marini.
And before you get too excited, Amina Ocasio-Cortez is only making her debut as a manager when Thomas stumbles through the door and feels an overwhelming urge to stick his vote into her ballot box. Even in socialist utopia, love is still restricted to non-prostitutes, because even socialist authors need to kowtow to capitalist publishers in order to keep making bread. The fact that I can’t pay whatever I want for this book – fifty cents, for the record, because I am not a millionaire like my socialist heroes – is a sure sign that ultimately, even socialists want to eat at the capitalists’ tables.
But don’t you believe that this is really a socialist story, fam. If it were, Thomas would have been a butcher, and there wouldn’t be this in the story:
He’d been living the life of ease and privilege, knowing that at the same time she’d been fighting for survival. Yet he knew that now. And from this moment forward, he swore she’d never again know suffering or injury.
He was a fucking duke. He could make anything happen.
Dare to Love a Duke is a rescue fantasy in which a wealthy man who inherited, rather than earned, his wealth and social power sweeps in to elevate the heroine from the dregs of socialism to the lofty heights of the Ton. The epilogue sees the heroine and the wives of the other two blokes in this series chatting like wealthy matrons in an elite club in a walled, gated community while magnanimously sponsoring some homes for children out there – sort of like those socialist icons in the US warning people not to trust billionaires and that we all need to redistribute our wealth so that everyone is happy with their share, before going home to luxuriate in their millionaire mansions that, for some reason, aren’t being converted into a free hotel for all those people from third world countries who want to emigrate to the US without having to bother with pesky things like immigration papers. Walls take lives… but keep the walls up in their gated communities, please, as we certainly don’t want those people they are supposedly championing to actually contaminate the sanctified privileged airs they breathe in. Unless, that is, they need a maid or a driver for their Rolls Royce, then a few lucky ones can go breathe in some of that air.
Just like those socialist icons, the socialists in this story seem content to pay lip service to being one while living out the elitist dream.
The garbled and contradictory messages in this story may likely be a result of the author valiantly trying to shoehorn popular contemporary values into a setting and a premise in which these values will not work, but the end result is the same: the whole thing comes off as hugely self-unaware and even hypocritical. Fraudulent, even, if we want to be really unkind. And if you are wondering why I am going on and on about this, that’s because this fraudulence is the story.
Even the basic premise is flawed from the get go. Amina Ocasio-Cortez is only doing what she does to ensure that all the staff of the Orchid Club remain employed, how noble of her, but given that she needs funds, it is madness to run a business on a socialist model of pay whatever you want, if you want to. She could be charging her upper class clientele an arm and a leg, maybe a few arms and legs, to have orgies in her establishment, but no. I guess, it is better to suffer for a cause than to actually get their ass up and do something. That makes her a perfect socialist, I know, but instead of having to pay the piper for her stupidity, she is saved by the advantages that come with sleeping with the right guy – a rich and well-connected guy.
Thomas, for a man who is supposedly at home in orgies and swinger parties, is uncharacteristically taken aback by the fact that Club Orchid has bisexual activities – supposedly so new and titillating for a man of his purported experience. He also falls in lust and even love unbelievably quickly for a man who has been around everywhere and done everything. Then again, given how fraudulent the rest of the story is, I’m not surprised that our hero too feels like a half-baked fixture of contradictions than anything else. Oh, and his character arc is that he learns how some people suffer from having less privilege than others, but the actual take home message here is that it’s always better to be privileged anyway because your money can do nice things, so yeah, socialism is good but I’d rather have a big bank account that I’m not going to share or get heavily taxed for, so GTFO, poor vermin folks.
The one saving grace of Dare to Love a Duke is the emotional intensity palpable in some of the more intimate scenes between Amina Ocasio-Cortez and Thomas Jefferson. Eva Leigh can really come up with luscious, intense scenes full of passion and bated breaths if she puts her mind to it, and many of these scenes have a lovely Je T’aime… Moi Non Plus vibe to them. They are lovely, sensual, graceful even… and then they are over and the complete mess of everything else about this story intrudes and brings me back to earth once again.
File this one under what happens when authors don’t take the time to think about whether their characters’ virtue-signaling make sense or feel sincere. Nothing about this story feels genuine in any way, and it’s very easy to feel insulted by such carelessness on the author’s part.