Signet Select, $7.99, ISBN 978-0-451-47013-3
Historical Romance, 2015
I have not read anything by Jillian Hunter in ages, so I thought, hey, the first in a new series, The Fenwick Sisters Affairs, may be a good place to start as I have no intention of wading through the antics of the Borcastle family in what seems like 700 books. Within a few pages into Forbidden to Love the Duke, however, I begin to have my doubts.
In the prologue, our hero James, the future Duke of Ellsworth, wants nothing better than to get it on with this hot chick he’d met in a masquerade ball. He’s such a pro that he can command his retinue to clear the crowd away so that he has no obstacle in his chasing after that woman. I don’t know whether this is a Bollywood movie parody or just a nobleman acting a bit, if I dare to say it, date rapey. He corners her, gets the kiss he wants, and nobly stops himself from going any further because he thinks that she’s too young.
We cut to a few years later. That woman is our heroine Ivy Fenwick. That kiss was wonderful… alas, subsequently her gambling-mad daddy, after having gambled everything they had, got caught cheating at cards and was killed in a duel thereafter. This leaves big sister Ivy in charge of her sisters. What is her big plan? Well, one sister is a writer, so she gets some money for the family. Ivy, in the meantime, pawns off everything that is saleable… but she will not sell the big house. No way! It’s theirs! The roof is going to fall down anytime soon, and really, maintaining a big house is expensive, but you know romance heroines. Give them a spoon and they’d somehow find a way to blind both their eyes with it in their enthusiasm to seek a hill to die on. Eventually, she decides to become a governess to bring in the dough.
James, his neighbor, had done everything a Duke would do in those days – go to war, risk his life without having first bred an heir, that kind of thing – is now back home and his post-war plan is to shag like crazy. He has his sights on an old family friend who seems interested in having something more with him. Alas, his cousin’s wife has decamped while the cousin is abroad doing that war thing, and their servants dumped the two kids of theirs at the very house where James has intended to spill his body fluids on as many pieces of furniture as possible. So he needs a governess to keep the kids out of the way while he indulges in sin. When Ivy shows up, he soon wonders why he bothers ordering a mistress from London when there is fine member of his household staff all ripe for him to loom over, make suggestive remarks, and let her know that he really wants to peek under her skirts, all the while knowing that she needs the money – and hence the job – bad.
Isn’t this the sexiest premise you have ever read? I’m surprised our hero seems to have lost all his old staff that were trained in clearing the way for him to corner and dry hump his lady victim, as I’m sure our heroine fleeing through a maze-like human barricade formed by James’s servants would have made any Bollywood production proud.
Oh, and even James knows that Ivy’s pay won’t be enough to maintain the family house, despite him paying her double the market rate. See, even the author knows that our heroine is running on empty. I suppose I’m to find such stupidity charming, and the fact that James the rapey creepy bastard coming to save her and her sisters, while making it clear that he expects hot sex from her, is the stuff wishes are made of.
Interestingly enough, Forbidden to Love the Duke turns out to be an unexpectedly entertaining read, despite the premise and the constant laying out of the double standard (promiscuous married women are shamed constantly, but promiscuous men who sleep with married women like James are celebrated and beloved by the very characters that shamed those women). This is due to the strength of several key characters. While I wouldn’t drink anything James offers me, he is actually a pretty charming, thoughtful, and even sweet fellow when he puts his heart to it. I can see why he can be so successful in being a male ho. Even Ivy’s sisters are pretty interesting, as is the other guy. And then there is the woman whom James intended to make his mistress, who turns out to be a pragmatic, sensible woman that seems to be everything a stereotypical romance heroine isn’t. These characters keep me turning the pages, and I like them.
Unfortunately, Ivy is so bland that half the time I wish she’d just find a cliff to walk off or something. Unlike the other characters, she has no wit or charm. She’s bent on being a martyr to self-imposed responsibilities that she has no way of carrying out successfully, she loves being self-depreciatory to the point of imbecility, and she’s often staring or gaping in confusion when she’s interacting with other characters who are not her sisters, making her seem even more mentally handicapped than she already is. As a result, she is the weakest link in this story, and I don’t give a damn about the romance because it’s so bland with the hero running rings around her. Ivy is like the village idiot that somehow stumbled upon a party attended by people who are far more clever and witty than her, and every time she is in a scene, she’s either annoying me with how stupid she is or making me yawn with how boring her entire personality is.
Ultimately, Forbidden to Love the Duke reaches the finish line due to the force of a few memorable personalities. It’s a shame that the heroine isn’t one of these characters. It seems like the author is far more interested in those other characters, and the heroine is given the leftover stupid and boring traits as a result. Anyway, this one has its moments, but as a romance, it’s a resounding dud.