Harlequin Historical, $6.50, ISBN 978-0-373-29840-2
Historical Romance, 2015
Romance clichés, sorry, tropes have their place in this world, sure, but the key is putting them all together in a manner that makes sense. The Duke’s Daring Debutante demonstrates that Ann Lethbridge knows all these tropes well by heart, but the way she mixes them all together here is best described, kindly, as “unintentional comedy”.
Frederick, the Duke of Falconwood, is known to most people in the Ton as the owner and manager of The Fools’ Paradise, the most infamous gambling den and brothel in St Giles. Yes, you read that right. A Duke running the gambling den and brothel in town. Oh, and Freddy’s also a spy, and he’s plying the hos, conducting orgies, and taking people’s money because he’s actually spying for the good of the land. Naturally, he is secretly all blue and bogged down with angst, because all this spy stuff is going to make him look like a raging slut-scum lord and, thus, the author needs to make him mope a lot in order to make Freddy “likable”.
Minette Rideau is the sister of the heroine of Captured Countess. Incidentally, you may not want to read this book if you hadn’t read that book, as the plot in this one takes off from where the previous book left off. Back to Minette, she learns that the bad guy from the previous book may be back to once again use her to strike at her sister and her new husband. Naturally, it’s up to Minette to save the day! She decides to seek out Freddy to help her, and in the process goes through a whole parade of “Hey, do I look like a heroine in an Amanda Quick story or what?” antics like sneaking into the hero’s gambling den and brothel wonderland to seek his audience. Oh, and she has a secret!
On paper, this story doesn’t seem so bad. It’s not the most original thing ever, but then again, who is original these days, right? However, this story is filled with things that have me scratching my head.
We already have a Duke openly running a brothel and gambling den when he’s not spying for the Crown. This same Duke would make me snort and roll up my eyes when he mopes and whines that he has nothing good to offer Minette. No kidding, Duke, one of the very few most highly ranked noblemen in the country indeed has nothing to offer a woman! Naturally, he’s very happy to stick his digits into every orifice of Minette, but he gets inexplicably offended and surly when he has to pay for the cow. Why? Because marrying Minette is an affront to his BFF (who is married to Minette’s sister) – sticking it to Minette is A-OK, though – or he just hates being “trapped” into marriage – I guess Minette’s hoochie can exert such powerful suction force that his pee-pee just has to be sucked into its depths; his reasons for being all surly and mopey can change from chapter to chapter. Still, he must seduce Minette, and oh, each thrust only makes him feel so much guilt! Oh, life is so hard for a wealthy slutty Duke who runs a skin trade!
Are spies always this overwrought when it comes to their feelings?
Minette… well, she’s the classic feisty thing. When I discover her secret, I find it odd that this secret hurt of hers has no effect on her way of doing things. She is still too eager to put out to men without any promises or commitment, going as far as to tell Freddy that he doesn’t have to pay anything once he’s done. She also has a tendency to come up with more convoluted plans to get things done when a simple, straightforward way would have been better. She’s already putting out to the guy for free, what’s the point of keeping anything else from him? Oh, and of course, Minette knows that it is very easy for a single woman to get knocked up in those days and then proceed to live such wonderful, fulfilling lives!
Everyone in The Duke’s Daring Debutante is off in one way or the other. The hero and the heroine wring their hands and rip out their hearts over more inconsequential matters while treating more serious matters with disconcerting flippancy. At one point, Minette is so eager to have sex with Freddy, she forgets important matters related to her supposedly urgent mission. These characters all rend their clothes and mope about how dreadful they are as human beings, but they have no impulse control – they have to do it, and they would never stop moaning about how guilty they feel afterwards. Their angst sometimes doesn’t make sense, such as our Duke of Falconwood dude acting like he is powerless to change the course of his life. Never mind that this book may not be historically accurate or authentic – it doesn’t make much sense most of the time.
The sad thing is, this story would have worked if the author had jettisoned some of the tropes. If Freddy had been a normal guy with no titles, just some spy who plays the seedy character as a front, for example, much of his angst would make more sense. By trying to play it safe, the author ends up torpedoing her story into nonsense-ville.