Signet Eclipse, $7.99, ISBN 978-0-451-47365-3
Historical Romance, 2015
Erin Knightley’s The Duke Can Go to the Devil has one of the most awesome titles ever, but the story isn’t bad at all in comparison. This is the third book in the Prelude to a Kiss series, but it can stand alone as the secondary characters generally don’t get too into anyone’s face and the plot is self-contained.
The Summer Serenade is winding down, and our three heroines are gearing up for their final musical performance. Two of them have found husbands, so this leaves Mei-Li “May” Bradford as the single unwed lady. Hence, her getting her story now.
Because this is a book by Erin Knightley, I try not to think too hard about things. She’s of the same school as, say, Tessa Dare – the author isn’t above using nice wallpapers for her historical setting, and the wallpapers may give purists an aneurysm. I suppose May is half-Chinese, given her name, but her father is an officer with the East India Company, and Mei-Li knows tai-chi so I can only speculate that her father met her mother in… Penang? I don’t recall the East India Company making any excursions into China. Okay, I’m overthinking all this, let’s just move on to something less confounding.
So, May is in England, deposited at her Aunt Victoria’s doorstep and told to be nice to her aunt while her father does his thing. May doesn’t like all the restrictions imposed on her, so she finds ways to do her own thing without getting her aunt to discover what she is doing. Still, she can’t avoid attending balls and such, and she’s not too fond of them, let’s just say. Meanwhile, the Duke of Radcliffe is probably the most serious and conservative fellow around Bath. William Spencer (that’s his name) does his best to be responsible and free from scandal, to make up for his late father’s profligate ways and the effect that man’s antics had on the family name and fortune. Therefore, it’s not surprising that William and May do not get along well at all from the moment they meet. It is surprising – or probably not, if you know your romance novels – when they discover that they really like each other. All that bickering and arguing can do wonders for these two!
That’s basically the plot of this story. No explosions, dead bodies, evil whores from space… nothing of that sort, just two people bickering and being all silly as they fall in love. The thing is, the author makes all that back and forth between the two silly fools so amusing and I only realize half the book has passed when I put down this book to get myself a drink. Time passes quickly when I’m reading this one because the author reels me in with her sense of humor and comedic timing (the humor is more conversational in nature, rather than slapstick, in case you’re wondering) and I find myself utterly charmed by the two dingbats.
The characters by themselves are actually familiar archetypes, and their antics aren’t too out of the ordinary, but the entire tale, however familiar, feels fun and so entertaining to read. I also like the fact that the author opts to give two secondary characters that could have been yet more stereotypes – the mean stepmother and the over-controlling hag aunt – some depths to make them a little more human and even sympathetic. I feel that the author tries to do this a little too late, as the story ends before her efforts manage to go anywhere good, but I appreciate the effort. Things like this make The Duke Can Go to the Devil a familiar kind of read that is, at the same time, a little different from the same old stuff out there.
This book is funny, well-paced, funny, amusing, funny, and occasionally packs a decent emotional punch. It’s definitely A-OK with me.