Avon, $7.99, ISBN 978-0-06-284972-4
Historical Romance, 2018
The Illegitimate Duke has an interesting premise: two jumped-up civilians who are now members of the Ton – a situation that they are both very uncomfortable with – finding an emotional connection with one another. But as per the norm based on her previous books, Sophie Barnes wastes no time plunging her story into a roiling vat of head-scratching plot elements and botched execution of everything else.
Juliette Matthews is a sickly sort, and her other siblings keep a tight leash on her, so our heroine is eager to experience freedom and what not. Florian Lowell is a doctor who recently gets promoted up the social ladder when the Duke of Redding made him his heir, and he’s the reason why Juliette is determined to remain a financial burden on her siblings instead of marrying well and earning her freedom by sitting on a pillow over the husband’s face on the honeymoon night – she is infatuated with him. I have no idea why, as he is a singularly miserable wretch determined to play the martyr over every single thing. The conflict comes in the form of his real father – a shady criminal who took his lessons from the Scooby-Doo Villain Academy – trying to cause problems, and Florian knows that he will destroy Juliette (in a non-orgasmic way, that is) if he ever married her. Hence, he must never have her. Okay, so he’s had her. He must never have her again. Okay, let’s try that again… oh, for heaven’s sake, he can just go jump off a pier if he’s going to be so destructive to poor wee Juliette.
Because that irritating wretch sure isn’t going to stay away.
The author, through Juliette, reveals in this story that she has never given much thought about volunteerism when she had Juliette saying this to Florian:
“Donating vast amounts of money to deserving causes is what rich people do to feel better about themselves. They do it because they want to help without actually helping, because it facilitates involvement at a safe distance, thus making it a selfish act of kindness.”
Oh hell, no. I don’t know what alternate reality the author lives in, but as someone who has worked at non-profit organizations before, let me say that these rich people should just give the money and feel good about themselves. This is because we need qualified volunteers. In Florian’s case, it is to help at his practice, to care for typhus fever patients and help stymie the spread of the disease. That means he will need actual nurses and other qualified medical professionals, not some sickly idiot who just wants to do something in order to rebel against her siblings. You know what happens when rich idiots like Juliette gallivant around these places as “volunteers”? They get in the way of actual qualified volunteers. Other qualified volunteers waste time having to fix the messes caused by these idiots. When these idiots catch a disease through their own incompetence and inexperience, then their family sues the non-profit, which then goes under. So yes, those rich people can give the money and then stay far, far away, thank you very much.
Of course, Juliette is immune to infectious diseases, thanks to plot armor. Speaking of diseases, the medical stuff here doesn’t always hold up, but then again, I tell myself that this is a Victorian setting and maybe we can just pass off the boo-boos as these folks being people of their time who don’t know everything that there is to know. Still, the author does inject some twenty-first century medical stuff here, so a cynical part of me leans more towards the likelihood of author not doing her research as thoroughly as she should have.
A bigger issue that would potentially vex people who like accuracy would be the very idea of Florian getting to be a duke’s heir even if though the connection is via his mother – the duke asked the king and the king said okay, let’s do it, yay. Can these people just nominate their heirs so easily? But I’ll let people who are in the know figure that one out. I’m personally more annoyed by the author injecting into my face some annoying social justice messages that are just flat out awful, such as the bizarre scree against “selfish donations” mentioned earlier. These messages aren’t well thought out and will crumble, often with painful consequences, when applied to real life today (and would probably be disastrous when practiced in the Victorian era) – they are better off placed in some Tumblr blog run by a thirteen-year old who fancies herself the ultimate expert on socialism.
That aside, Juliette is the annoying, spunky waif type whose stupidity and impulsiveness is often passed off as some kind of rebellion against the roles imposed on her sex, although just like every other romance novel that pretends at being so woke like this, the author negates any kind of half-baked, ill-planned nonsense Juliette is planning by having her wed to a hubby who can promise security via the very means that she speaks so strongly against. The whole thing is so disingenuous, I can only hope that this is just a case of the author blindly following tropes without checking to make sure that everything fits in a logical manner. Given that the author has, without any hint of irony, Juliette’s siblings being so happy that our heroine is “thriving” in an environment full of typhus, I am certainly leaning towards that belief.
The bad guy is awfully cartoon-like, the hero is a jackass who just wants to be a martyr – the kind that pushes people’s head under water while moaning that it will only hurt him the most when those people drown – but frankly, the biggest sin of The Illegitimate Duke is how it is loaded on almost every page with elements that range from mystifying to outright stupid.