Grand Central Publishing, $5.99, ISBN 978-1-4555-3679-5
Historical Romance, 2016
Which is worse, a dumb romance heroine or a dumb romance hero? If you ask me, I’d take five dumb romance heroines to one dumb romance hero any time. You see, dumb romance heroines generally plunge mostly themselves in danger, either by thoughtless actions or inaction. Genre rules dictate that romance heroines rarely take proactive actions on things beyond their own self-interests, as they are often placed in a position of weakness in order to make the premise more “romantic”, so for the most part, they live in their own limited bubble. Plus, the hero often mitigates the worst self-harm these heroines can inflict on themselves.
Romance heroes are almost always in the position of strength. This is one of those unwritten rules of the genre – readers don’t dig heroes in distress, apparently – so a stupid hero, unlike the stupid heroine, is invariably in a position to do maximum damage to everyone around him, even the country, and on the reader’s blood pressure. Romance heroines almost always never press the red button that says DO NOT PRESS unless someone threatens to shoot the dog. but a stupid hero will press it willingly and without hesitation, because he thinks the heroine is a whore and a liar and the world is against him, and besides, he’s on a secret mission to save England from the oppression of the French.
Captain Maximus Harcourt, people, is a dumb hero, and he is also the Duke of Alderidge. There goes the alarm already. Unlike most dukes, our “unconventional” hero ignores his responsibilities to do stuff abroad for three years, while acting like he’s the most inconvenienced and unhappy person ever. When he comes back to London, it’s because there is family drama: her sister is MIA, and a dead earl, as naked as the day he was born, is in her bed, his limbs tied to the bedposts with silk. And there is a full party downstairs, oh dear.
On the scene are Ivory Moore and her assistant, and Ivory is a genteel lady who has fallen on hard times and has taken up the job of a “fixer”. She deftly and cleverly removes all traces of the evidence while addressing how he and his mother should act to defuse scandal.
Olivia Pope Ivory Moore is also hot and beautiful and, in Max’s eyes, completely insufferable.
You see, he wants to take over and be in charge, because he is the boss. She calmly asks him each time he tries to muscle into the scene what he wants to do, and he’s like, “Uh… er… I’m the boss! I am, damn it!” She doesn’t know her place, what a wretch.
He also knows that she is untrustworthy, as good as a confidence woman, because… I’m still not sure about that one. Maybe she’s a con because she does exactly what she is paid to do, and efficiently and discreetly too? That is a sure sign of a swindler, right there!
He also doesn’t trust her because he knows that she is only loyal to the people who pay her. That’s a bad thing, of course, as loyalty to him and his mother – who are paying her for a job well done – would no doubt mean that she would backstab and betray them non-stop. He better watch out for signs of treachery!
Maximus Dumbass persists with his nonsense for quite a long time here, so Duke of My Heart is a pretty tough read. There are times when I roll up my eyes so hard at his nonsense that I worry about my eyeballs getting stuck as a result. Max is also graced with mule-like stubbornness and a bloated sense of confidence that is never justified by his demonstrated abilities, so I suspect that there may be readers who put down this book after a while to go read something else less painful.
Still, things aren’t so bad, because Max does have some character development here. The author isn’t afraid to have other characters dress down the hero when he goes too far, and Max also occasionally experiences moments of self awareness when he realizes what a dolt he is being. Therefore, Max isn’t the problem here. He’s not an easy character to follow, but he does get to a better place eventually.
The problem is the romance. The hero and the heroine show little discernible chemistry, and I have no idea why the heroine should consider the hero to be someone she loves. The fact that she finds him attractive is believable, but because he’s being a dumbass most of the time, I don’t see why she ends up falling for him. Well, unless she likes having a husband that will always be the dumber of the two of them, I suppose. The romance here is not very well developed, as most of the time I’m told that these two should be having sex (the annoying cheerleader secondary characters strike again – insisting that the heroine needs to get laid with the hero because he’s so cute, damn reason and context) rather than being shown in the story why they should. The mystery is the bigger focus here, but alas, I find it a pretty dull one.
I do like Ivory and Max’s sister, mostly for the girl power message the author is selling through them. Unlike many historical romances which have heroines just mouthing off things like wanting the independence and freedom denied to them due to their gender without any context given as to why they would feel this way, both women here have good reasons to feel the way they do. They have lived through things good and bad that shape their perception and philosophies, and thus, their desire for independence and freedom feel real, relatable. They are not modern day American women shoved into a 19th-century English setting, in other words. I also like that Max’s sister’s efforts to get what she craves lead to some social repercussions that would have been far more dire if Ivory hadn’t been in the picture – there is a realism here that only adds to the poignancy of her desperate search for happiness.
Duke of My Heart would have been a far more successful story if it had been a straightforward historical mystery story without a weak romance to drag it down considerably. Take out the scenes of the hero and the heroine in their forced lusting and boinking, and there would be more opportunities to develop the mystery into something better.