Avon, $7.99, ISBN 978-0-06-238681-6
Historical Romance, 2017
James Cavendish is coming to London to be the new Duke of Durham. Alas, he is far more rugged, handsome, glorious, well-endowed, sexy, and everything than your average English milquetoast, so when he comes on to our heroine Meredith Green in an inn in Southampton, she demurs enough to assure readers that she doesn’t sleep with strangers often (she’s no whore, people!) before jumping his bones like an enthusiastic rabbit during mating season.
You know, it helps to think of It’s Hard Out Here for a Duke as a contemporary romance that just happens to have dukes and carriages. Otherwise, readers who are particularly about authenticity may end up with elevated blood pressure by the end of this book.
Anyway, eventually James catches up with the Duchess of Durham – the wife of the late duke – who insists that James needs to be brought up to snuff before he can be presented to Society. And the person who will teach him is… ta-da, Meredith, the Duchess’s companion!
As you can imagine, sex with an inexperienced heroine is the best kind of sex any man can ever have in a romance novel, so James can’t get her out of his mind and, now that she’s here in close proximity to him 24/7, he’s no problems making her his wife. Therefore, it is up to Meredith to go, eeek, she must give up the love because of her mother, the debt she owes her employer, James’s own good, the good of James’s sisters, the dog, the unicorns, and all the sad little orphans in the world.
Was this book written in a rush? I do wonder because by the time I finish it, I am struck by how much telling is present here. I’m told a lot about what the characters do and what they are thinking, and there is something about the whole narrative that feels very by the numbers. Also, there are quick time jumps, and some rather abrupt scene cuts here and there, which only adds to the whole rushed and under duress feel of the whole thing. The characters are very standard stock archetypes, and if I weren’t familiar with the associated tropes with these archetypes to fill in the blanks, James and Meredith will turn out even more underdeveloped ciphers.
Interestingly, while James is like, “Screw the rules, I’ll shag and marry whomever I want!” and the characters talk about how love can overcome everything, the author clearly doesn’t believe this claptrap. She lets readers know that James’s sisters eventually wed powerful men in Society, which of course helps to keep the scandal of James’s marriage to a minimal, and the author also makes sure that Meredith’s pedigree isn’t that low – there is still enough blue blood in her to make her worthy of love, of course. Well, I’m glad to know that the author isn’t a starry-eyed idealist, but her approach here ends up making her characters the starry-eyed idealists instead, who happen to have a happily ever after because things come into place for them, instead of by their own actions. Therefore, these characters’ happy ending feels tad unearned.
As for James’s molding into the Duke of Durham, it’s not at all interesting because from the get go, he is already the hottest, tallest, sexiest, et cetera dude in the world, so everything comes by easy. What, he wants to muck in the stables? That’s because he wants to and can, as we all know romance novel Americans are all about lofty democracy and everyone on an equal standing (blacks and Native Americans excluded, of course, but hey, they can be our democratic Americans’ employees and BFFs!), and hence, James can do whatever he wants, so there. His arc, therefore, is an interesting as watching paint dry on a wall.
Maya Rodale is a serviceable author and she certainly knows all the bestselling tricks and shticks to put into her books, so It’s Hard Out Here for a Duke is probably good enough for a quick, breezy read. But given the uninteresting story, the nondescript main characters whose most noticeable trait is how much they conform to their archetypes, and the choppy, rushed narrative, I’m not sure whether “it’d do” is a good enough reason to pick this one up over, say, any of the many, many formulaic historical romances out there in the market.