Avon, $5.99, ISBN 0-06-052840-0
Historical Romance, 2004
Adele Ashworth’s latest Regency era romance Duke of Sin is an uneven and often frustrating read. The mood and the characterization seems to change according to whim, it is as if the book is edited by two or three editors, each editor as well as the author having her own idea as to how the story should turn out. Duke of Sin is a schizophrenic book. Even so, the romantic elements aren’t really worth wading through the muddled waters for because at the end of the day, they are made up of familiar and often stereotypical elements typical of the Regency era historical sub-genre. This book is predictable sameness wrapped up in a confusing presentation. It’s a pity because Adele Ashworth should deliver and has delivered better stories than this.
William Trent is a typical Duke with secrets. Accused of murdering his wife by her family, he has become a recluse. Vivian Rael-Lamont is the quintessential heroine with a secret that her enemy would exploit to make her run to the hero. In this case, Vivian isn’t a widow as much as she is the wife separated from her husband in France (while conveniently remaining pure enough for our hero’s plucking). While she normally delivers flowers to the Duke of Sin as per her role as the local florist, she has never met the man. This will change when she finds herself blackmailed to steal an autographed Shakespearean sonnet from William.
Someone ought to write a book for villains to read. The opening sentence at page one should be: Never, ever make a romance heroine do your dirty work for you. On the bright side, Vivian doesn’t go into hysterical mode, tearing her clothes and offering herself to the hero or something equally painful. Instead, she offers to buy the sonnet from William. On the other hand, William thinks that it is the right time for his inner asshole to appear and asks for her, er, companionship in exchange for the sonnet. Won’t it be easier to give her back her flowers and buy her a ring? But William is stuck in his own trap when he finds himself so intrigued by Vivian that he starts finding excuses not to sleep with her and hence set her free as per their promise thereafter.
The whole blackmail subplot is convoluted – too convoluted, really, for something that isn’t quite credible in the first place to justify forcing the two of them to spend time together. Vivian’s secrets are also not that awful to justify the great lengths she goes to keep them shut in her closet, although the fact that she does so causes the story to descend soon enough into familiar territory where everyone is determined to be a martyr for the other person. She’s also quite inconsistent as a character in that she seems determined to get laid when she is sexually inexperienced and mistrusting of the hero (or attracted to him, depending on what page I am reading). But William is the biggest inconsistency of them all. The author’s attempt to turn him into some leering, horny alpha male is really clumsy and I actually cringe at some of his “alpha” pick-up lines. I think Ms Ashworth does the sensitive reliable hero so much better because William’s more lucid moments as such hero are more enjoyable to read. Because these two characters seem to experience mood swings and switch from one extreme end to another, from trust to mistrust, without much rhyme or reason, I have this impression that the people involved in the production of this book don’t seem to know what these characters really should be. Unless William and Vivian are supposed to be schizophrenic, that is, which I really doubt is the case.
The supposedly tender sexual healing moments don’t work too well for me because these scenes offer cross the line from sexual tension to talk show sexual psychology.
Duke of Sin could have been a much better book if the author and anyone else involved in the editorial process can decide on and stick to a single focus instead of trying to make Vivian and William appeal to as many readers as possible. There is no denying that there is good, clean writing here but that is never a problem with this book. No, the problem here is the schizophrenia marring the characters in their behavior, motivations, and thoughts. A little consistency would have gone a long way in making this book more enjoyable.