Avon, $7.99, ISBN 978-0-06-246687-7
Historical Romance, 2016
Karen Ranney’s forte is conversation. She can create some of the most exquisite so-tender-I-get-chills scenes between the hero and the heroine. Strangely enough, the hero Alex Russell, the Duke of Crymore, er, Kinross, spends a lot of time avoiding the heroine. Thus, what I get in The Scottish Duke is a hugely unsatisfying story of a heroine who has to put up with a whiny crybaby of a dude and his unpleasant family members – one of whom is actually psycho. It doesn’t capitalize on the author’s strengths at all.
The Duke of Crymore became quickly estranged from his previous wife shortly after their marriage, apparently because he magically deduced that she married him for the prestige. No kidding, that never happened in marriages among the upper class, naturally! So he basically ignored her to do his studying and researching thing, and to everyone’s horror, that wife Ruth took other lovers! Oh my god, what a slut bag. Didn’t that leg-spread-wide ho of a ho get that a good woman is supposed to wait at home and will the hero to magically come love her? Anyway, that horrible, vile, creepy, disgusting slut bag fortunately died in childbirth – TAKE THAT, WHORE! – but alas, this act of karma comes with a tragic cost: Alex now cannot trust anybody again. Ever. Our gorgeous, wealthy, able-bodied hero, born into privilege, is the unluckiest man in the world, so we should all play the violin and shed tears as he whines about people being liars and what not to him. Should we start a Patreon account or something for him?
Meanwhile, Lorna Gordon is a maid at Crymore’s house. When the story opens, she dresses up in an old but hot dress to sneak into the fancy dress ball thrown by her employer, and ends up giving up her virginity to Crymore, whose good looks have her convinced that he is, well, hot. Realizing that she’s a virgin, he calls her a scheming slut ho bag of a whorey prostitute and she’s like, OMG he is so mean… whatever, bye. Only, she ends up pregnant and tries to do that “I will have my child alone and SUFFER because I’m so AMAZING like that!” thing, only to have her friend fortunately leave an anonymous note to Alex’s kindly mom, basically telling her that, surprise, she’s going to be a grandmother. This grandmother, who is the nicest person in the story by the way, tells Alex, who is like OH NOES THAT SLUTTY HO BAG PROSTITUTE OF A SCHEMER HARLOT AND VARIOUS OTHER ENTRIES IN THE THESAURUS FOR “WHORE” IS TRYING TO BLACKMAIL ME, I WILL CRUSH HER LIKE A MORTAL KOMBAT CHAMPION RIGHT AWAY. But because Lorna is noble, rejecting his money and all, and besides, he basically outs her to her neighbors and almost causes her to be stoned like the harlot of Babylon by those people, he doesn’t have any option other than to eventually set her up at his household.
But Lorna insists that she will never be his mistress! You know, if the author wants me to like this woman, she should have Lorna use her womanly wiles to squeeze every penny from Crymore. Heaven knows, it’s not like he’s good for anything else.
To be fair, Crymore mellows and becomes nicer in the third act of the story, but for the most part, he’s actively avoiding the heroine due to his whole WAH WAH I DON’T TRUST ANYONE ANYMORE WAH WAH nonsense. This often humiliates and hurts Lorna, even sabotaging her efforts to fit in with his household, but don’t tell Lorna that. While she often calls Alex on his antics, he only has to beckon and she’d happily go to him. It is telling that, after all the insults he’s thrown at her at her most vulnerable moment, she would still be outraged to learn that Ruth cheated on Alex. How can any sane woman cheat on a man like Alex? How indeed. How sad for Lorna, really, that even after how he has treated her, Alex is still some kind of irreproachable god in her mind.
The whole “Alex can’t do no wrong – it’s all Ruth’s fault!” blankets the entire story, so if you are not into such blatant double standard, this one is going to be a very tough story to finish. For a long time, I had hopes that the author would give Alex some kind of convincing epiphany so that he will get over himself and do some groveling, but that one never comes. Instead, the author creates some lame attempt at psycho-strikes-at-the-heroine drama for some “action” in the later parts of the story. That one is lame because there are only two very obvious bad guys here. One male, one female. If you are like me, cynical, you will correctly guess right away that the male gets redeemed – sequel coming soon, perhaps – while the female, who has no sequel value as readers prize pee-pees far more than hoo-hoos, ups the psycho antics to +1,000 and the whole story resembles a cartoon as a result.
Oh, and the psycho wouldn’t have gone as far as she did if the hero had found the spine to tell that creature to GTFO and spend more time telling everyone to respect his wife, instead of reinforcing their beliefs that it’s okay to treat the wife like dirt because the husband seems to be doing the same. His story arc is basically “Dude takes this long to get over himself!” and I find it hard to care because Alex comes off too much like a passive crybaby twat for so much of the story.
On the bright side, this is one story that actually addresses how it is not easy for anyone to just marry up and be accepted by everyone. Still, that’s a small consolation – the rest of the story consists of a poorly developed and unconvincing romance between an annoying crybaby whiner of a hero and a heroine who deserves far better, with added bonus of a super lame plot featuring a cartoon villain from hell and a double standard that leaves a bad taste in my mouth. I am starting to miss the old Karen Ranney.