Sourcebooks Casablanca, $7.99, ISBN 978-1-4926-2165-2
Historical Romance, 2017
Nothing Like a Duke is part of the The Duke’s Sons series, and the title has nothing to do with the story within. Wait, it does: the hero Lord Robert Gresham is not going to be a duke unless somehow all the guys in this series hold hands and get elevated to dukedom together once daddy croaks, so the title is literally correct. But, of course, it is designed to lead readers to think that they will be getting a duke inside, so adjust your expectations accordingly.
This is more in the vein of old school traditional regency, as the sensuality level is tame enough so as to not send the sensitive butterfly souls reading this book into cardiac arrest, there is a focus on fashion, and there are stretches when the heroine is doing her thing with the hero nowhere in sight. The structure, tone, and style all make me wonder whether this is a revised version of one of the author’s out of print works.
Robert knows that he is the life of any party, and ladies all find him adorable. However, once when he takes up with a scholar, the scholar’s daughter Flora Jennings gets under his skin and earns a place in his heart. Alas, she doesn’t seem to reciprocate his feelings, and when the story opens, he decides to flee, er, take a trip to Salbridge Great Hall up in Northumberland to attend the Salbridge’s ball as well as to visit his brother. Imagine his surprise when Flora shows up there too.
This is one story where the heroine’s immaturity is passed off in a condescending manner as something precious and cute. She has a huge chip on her shoulder about members of the nobility, as her mother was banished from Polite Society for marrying a mere scholar. She, therefore, shows up with a stank face attitude. Oh, Robert gets along well with those people? That means he is banal and vapid like them too! And then she proceeds to judge everyone terribly based on their looks and appearance, although don’t you ever forget that they are the shallow and vapid lot here. She will stomp her foot a lot, say stupid things, and generally behave like a socially inept twit who refuses – absolutely refuses – to be nice or behave like a social person, and then complains that everyone is as terrible as she thinks when they all roll up their eyes at her. She even has negative thoughts about the folks who are nice to her, mind you.
And yet, the hero never wavers in his feelings for her. I don’t get it.
For the first half of the book, I follow the heroine’s antics – taking a deep, relaxing breath now and then – while holding out in hope that the heroine’s occasional glimmers of self awareness means that there will be some kind of character arc in the works. Maybe the author is working up for the heroine to discover that she is nowhere as smart as she thinks she is, and everyone will be happier if we all take the effort to know people instead of judging them on superficial traits?
Well, no such luck. I’m not sure what happened, but it looks to me that the author soon abandoned whatever she had in store for Flora for something safer and less polarizing. As the story moves into the second half, the heroine’s behavior persists, but now, her antics are framed in a positive manner. Her social snobbishness is portrayed as some kind of “honesty”, as if Flora knows some deep secret of life that nobody else in her time understands. And yet, our dear still remains a self-centered, judgmental hag who doesn’t seem to know what she wants at all. At the penultimate moment very late in the story, even when the hero gives her what she wants, therefore allowing her to be the fiery feminist that she claims she is, she still lashes out at him for who knows what reason. I feel that the heroine still has plenty of growing up to do before she can earn her happy ending, and hence, I close the book feeling vaguely cheated of a good character arc.
The hero is a darling through and through, though, and his interactions with a dog he picks up and adopts in the first chapter are just so adorable. It’s too bad that, as the story progresses, he is reduced to being the heroine’s punching bag, emotional crutch, and babysitter. He deserves a better heroine, just like I deserve a better story with him as the star. Oh well.