Montlake Romance, $12.95, ISBN 978-1477828021
Historical Romance, 2015
The Duke’s Holiday was previously self-published, and because it made the author a lot of money, Amazon came in and scooped it up into its Montlake Romance imprint. I personally don’t understand such a move, as Montlake Romance is still predominantly a digital publisher using Amazon’s Kindle platform, just like the previous self-published effort. So, is there anyone left to buy this book? Oh yes, people like me, because, for some reason, all titles that are self-published on Kindle have geographical restriction against people outside of the US and the UK while, for some reason, nearly all of the books published through a publisher do not have a similar restriction.
So here I am, late to the party, and after reading this one, I wish I’ve never attended the party in the first place.
It has an interesting hero: Lord Cyril Monk, the Duke of Montford, is not like any romance hero you will meet in a while. Despite having the usual physique of a hot stud like every other romance hero, he hates traveling or mingling with the great unwashed. He can’t stand anything out of order – everything has to be arranged just the way he likes it, and he changes his clothes the moment he believes that they are creased even a bit. He doesn’t like ballrooms either, and his only friends are the two “Buy my books, they are next!” blokes that stick with him since their school days. Montford likes his life just the way it is, mind you, but he loses his equilibrium when he discovers that a tenant of sorts had passed away one year ago and he only knows of it now.
The situation is a bit complicated. Montford’s family and the Honeywells have been at odds ever since a Honeywell man ran off with a Monk lady ages ago, and all the drama that followed resulted in the Honeywell land being contracted to become the Duke of Montford’s property should the Honeywell male line dies out. Well, Aloysius Honeywell had no sons, and Montford has been rubbing his hands as he anticipates finally being the owner of that land. Therefore, to learn that Aloysius has been dead for a year now… wait, who then is that “A Honeywell” that has been writing to him in the meantime? He sends his steward to find out, but the man soon goes silent.
Like it or not, Montford has to swallow his bile at the idea of traveling and visit the property himself to find out what is happening over there. He soon meets and clashes with Astrid Honeywell, Aloysius’s daughter who has been running and expanding the family brewery business.
Maggie Fenton has a Loretta Chase-like style of narrative, so for the first few chapters, I thought I had a keeper in my hands. Montford is unapologetic in how neurotic and abrasive he can be, and I am charmed. Throwing up all over the place, acting like a snob to the peasants… he is a tall glass of water compared to all those rakes and Crown agent heroes out there.
And then the heroine shows up, and the story gets shot completely.
Astrid is the textbook example of what we call a heroine with informed attributes. She is said to be a much better businesswoman than anyone else in her family, and that she has expanded the whole business to a new level. And yet, in this story, all she does is to come up with increasingly outlandish plots to throw Montford off, plots that any rational person can see right off are bound to fail, and plots that Montford sees through right away because he, unlike Astrid, is rational. Astrid is all talk – shrill, shrewish “All men are useless, all women are awesome, so I am awesome!” talk – but she cannot walk even a step without falling onto her rear end. The more the author describes her as intelligent, the more I get this impression that we are all supposed to treat Astrid with the kind of condescension normally reserved for chauvinists – “There, there, the poor woman manages to breathe for five minutes without choking – isn’t she so intelligent?” – because, for romance heroines like Astrid, we set the bar for intelligence so low that she gets a trophy for crossing the street without tripping and getting run over by a car.
The hero is reduced to being another staple character, all his unique traits lost because he is too busy reacting to the heroine’s incessant tomfoolery. The heroine spends a lot of time thinking about how smarter she is compared to everyone around her, thus increasing her unlikable quotient by +10,000 because she’s actually one of the dimmest bulbs in the shed. For example, oh no, she can’t negotiate with Montford or even plot to swindle him properly, she has to get an idiotic dolt to pretend to be her brother – a dolt that can barely keep in character – when everyone knows that Aloysius left behind only daughters. All this while, the author is telling me how smart Astrid is. Oh please, the only reason Astrid can be considered comparatively smart here is because the author surrounds our heroine with even dumber secondary characters, most of whom behave like very drunk people at a clown school prom.
The Duke’s Holiday is, ultimately, a slapstick comedy with the jokes dragged out for so long that the punchline is already stale when the author remembers to deliver it. Worst of all, it wastes a unique and memorable hero on such a dung pile of a story. I’m deducting one oogie from the final score for that crime alone. Wasting my time and money is bad enough, but wasting that hero? That is simply unforgivable!