St Martin’s Press, $7.99, ISBN 978-0-312-54924-4
Historical Romance, 2012
Cecily Hurston has a problem. Her father, an archeologist of some reknown, had a stroke after returning home from an ill-fated excavation trip in Egypt. His secretary was MIA during the trip, and now, there are nasty rumors saying that her father murdered that poor guy! Cecily needs to clear her father’s name at once. But how?
She has a plan, naturally. Her father, a paranoid man who is afraid of people stealing his discoveries and ideas, of course keeps his journals in the Egyptian Club, where other members can peek at his things. It makes sense from a necessity standpoint – the author needs a plot to power this story, after all, and we can’t all be expected to come up with a sensible plot. Just like how Cecily can’t be expected to come up with a sensible plan. We all have our weaknesses. For some people, it’s chocolate. For Manda Collins, it seems to be plotting. And for Cecily, it’s thinking.
So, Cecily’s plan. Because the Club for some reason can’t be persuaded by her gasping efforts to get them to let her in, she comes up with an amazing idea to circumvent the Club’s rule of allowing only women married to a member to get in. She’ll marry a Club member in the next week or so, and ta-da, success! What long-term repercussions? Cecily is a brilliant bluestocking, interested only in archeology and making her beloved father happy. Can’t you tell just from her presence that she is a one-woman brain trust destined to change the world for the better with her limitless intelligence?
Lucas Dalton, our hero, is clearly created from the Pick-a-Number-and-Join-the-Dots Hero Mill with minimal effort. He’s a laundry list of hero clichés: decorated war hero, acclaimed society diamond, a Duke, et cetera. Like Cecily, he gets a lot of informed attributes, but shows little of these attributes throughout the story. His brother is the guy MIA in the Egyptian tea party of Cecily’s father, and he’s determined to get to the bottom of things. Our canny investigator, however, doesn’t recognize his target’s only daughter – maybe his investigations consist of doodling on scraps of paper “I MISS MY BROTHER!” and “WANT HIM BACK!!!!!! NOW!!!!” At any rate, he bumps into Cecily and eventually decides to help her out even as she’s bent on marrying some Club geezer and he’s determined to save her from a loveless marriage.
To say that these characters are modern-day airheads playing Regency-era dress-up games is like announcing to the world that the sun is hot. If you like your historical romances to be even a bit authentic, you may want to prepare the garlic bulbs and holy water in advance before tackling this one as Manda Collins makes Julia Quinn look like Jane Austen in comparison.
But what I find very annoying here is the dependence of the story on all kinds of stupidity to fuel it all the way to the happy ending. It takes our two braintrusts over 100 pages before coming up with the obvious solution: break into the bloody Club and steal the journals, and even then, it’s the hero who predictably comes up with the most sensible plan in the entire book. Our heroine actively fights every little show of intelligence from the hero, and her insipid repertoire culminates in a dramatic tension consisting of her refusing to contemplate the idea of marrying Lucas because she loves him too much and… and… I don’t understand this creature and I don’t even want to try. Cecily is the epitome of the braindead heroine. Not that Lucas is any better, but because he has a penis and he has to play the knight in shining armor, he gets to be halfway right once in a while. But that’s very infrequent.
The plot is full of bizarre leaps to conclusions. This is fine when the characters are right, but more often than not, they’re wrong, so I find myself constantly cringing at how bloody, utterly, completely stupid they are. When they are not bickering like silly children, these characters forget essential information, only to remember them at convenient moments late in the story. These twits are as deep as a puddle and their “I will not believe in love again!” nonsense stems from flimsy and unjustified generalization of things that they clearly have no clue about. Stupid, stupid, stupid.
It’s not just the characters, though. This story is full of unbelievable coincidences and lucky happenstance that prevent our main characters from meeting death in the face like they deserve. The villain is transparent, the sex scenes are ridiculously timed and happen at the most eye-rolling “Are you kidding me?” moments, and the stupid train just keeps moving. Stupid, stupid, stupid.
Really, How to Dance with a Duke is just stupid from page one to last. The nicest thing I can say about this book is that Manda Collins shows an occasional sense of humor that works, one that is probably all wrong for a romance with this type of plot. Maybe one day she’ll get it right, but for now, this book is definitely not right at all. It’s so stupid in so, so many ways, it’s pretty much broken.