Signet, $7.99, ISBN 978-0-451-22542-9
Historical Romance, 2008
If you think Notorious, the author’s last book, is a dreary chore to wade through, you are in for more of the same treat in The Decadent Duke. Okay, so I find both books unbearably dull, but don’t let me stop you from experiencing the pain first hand.
This one is a fictionalized account of Lady Georgina Gordon’s life and love in the late 1700s. In this story, she finds herself in an uncomfortable position of having her ambitious mother foist Francis Russell, the Duke of Bedford at that time, on her while Georgy herself is attracted to Francis’ brother, the less extravagantly debauched John. The problem with John is that he is married at that time. Of course, if you know your history, you will know which man Georgina ends up with, not that you will have any doubt while reading this story, just as you will know that Georgina eventually finds herself in love with a young artist later in her life – the love between Georgina and John is as good as it can be in those times when nobody really expected to fall in love when they got hitched. Of course, this story makes the love ten times more splendorous and beautiful.
Or so it would be, if this story is better written. Ms Henley starts off the story with a huge cast of characters, as if she expects me to be on the first name basis with all those historical figures she has incorporated into the story. It is a chore trying to keep all the names straight, because these characters all speak in the same way and they even seem to siphon what little personality they have from the same skimpy source. The characters are flat. Very little insight as to what is happening in the characters’ heads is shown. According to history, Georgina will go on to become a renowned patron of the arts of her time, but in this story, this Georgina behaves like a silly little girl prone to pouting and stomping her foot when she does not get her way. John is cardboard thin as a character while Francis… well, you know what will happen to him if you know the history of these people so it’s just as well that he’s little better than a creepy date rapist on the prowl.
The conflicts separating Georgina and John are not even interesting. These conflicts are clichéd and developed with all the emotional intensity found in a Sweet Valley High story. Georgina and John jump into all kinds of silly assumptions about the other person, and these conflicts drag on and on until they are finally resolved in a “Yeah? So what, eh?” dismissive manner.
What I get in The Decadent Duke, therefore, is a very boring soap opera detailing the blow-by-blow daily happenings of a bunch of indistinguishable modern-day Americans playing dressing-up games and affecting an English accent. I’m more amazed by how I can remain awake long enough to reach the last page than I am by anything about this story.