St Martin’s Press, $7.99, ISBN 978-1-250-10092-4
Historical Romance, 2017
I Dared the Duke is the second book in Anna Bennett’s Wayward Wallflowers series, but new readers probably can catch up easily as the plot is self contained and the cast is small. However, this one pushes the term “wallpaper history” to the limit, and I suspect that readers who care about some degree of historical authenticity will find themselves gaping at the pages in bewilderment.
This is a “companion and the hot nobleman” story. If it’s not a companion, then it’s a governess – the basic storyline involves the same old “giving the employer some sexual healing” premise – but in this case, there are fortunately no traumatized brats in the picture. Heroine Elizabeth Lacey is merely the companion to the grandmother of our hero Alexander Savage, the Duke of Blackshire. Issues begin cropping up right away in the first chapter when Beth sees no problems giving lip and sassing a duke, telling me that the duke does not deserve her best. In other words, there is no class system in this alternate version of 1818, everyone is just sassy and feisty only to be loved for such behavior.
It gets better. Alex believes that his grandmother is in danger, so he needs to relocate her to the country where it’s safe, but he can’t tell her or Beth this, of course. Being reasonable doesn’t make romance stories happen, after all. So Beth believes that he’s just being a callous meanie who wants to banish the dear old lady away so that he can carouse and wag that thing at his paramours 24/7, and she will not stand for it. So a bluestocking nobody storms up to Alex and demands that he’s better grant three wishes to his grandmother or she will not budge. In case anyone has forgotten, Alex is a duke. Just saying. And the duke, instead of just kicking her out of the house and forcing the grandmother to relocate off his property, decides to play along because Beth is just so sassy and it makes him randy.
The rest of I Dared the Duke follow a similar “American sitcom starring people wearing Regency-era clothes modified from stuff picked from a Hot Topic discount bin” pattern. Beth’s attitude about sex is very contemporary in nature, for example, and we have her getting assaulted by nasty noble dudes on the street before Alex coming to the rescue and starting a fight on that very same street. Even if I take aside the whole lack of historical authenticity vibe, the story follows a very familiar path. Alex going to gambling dens to sort out the mystery that caused him to want to relocate his grandmother in the first place, Beth transforming into the hot babe at the ball, he has family issues that he shares to Beth while she nods understandingly, sexual healing, and no matter how careful the hero and his buddies are, the heroine ends up still needing rescue towards the end. Everything about this one is either familiar trope in action or the author flagrantly ignoring societal norms and rules of the setting of her story.
But I can’t fully pan this one, because I can’t help liking Alex, who balances angst with obsessive devotion very nicely. And despite he and Beth often being very silly at times, I like them and have a good time following their story. True, a part of me is always cringing at how this entire story will most likely not happen if the author had played by the rules of her setting – Alex doesn’t have to play along with an employee’s impertinent demands, and Beth would be sacked without a reference and kicked out of the house – but I think the two are adorable in their own ways. The author also has a bouncy, cheery tone when it comes to the narrative, which only makes it easier for me to let go of my initial reservations and just go with the flow.
So yes, I’m giving this one three oogies, as it does have large flaws that are hard to be overlooked, but I should also remind you guys that, if you prefer stories with some degree of historical accuracy, I Dared the Duke may not meet the cut.