Avon, $5.99, ISBN 0-06-052704-8
Historical Romance, 2003
Julianne MacLean’s Avon debut title To Marry the Duke is a little bit sparkling and too much unoriginal. The premise is that of a marriage of convenience where the heroine works to win her husband’s affections, but the hero is such a stereotype stringed together from a list of traits cobbled together from the Handbook of Derivative Heroes that his actions and behavior rarely make sense. If the author hasn’t tried so hard to be unoriginal, this book will even more readable.
James Langdon, the Duke of Wentworth, is like a parody of the tortured rake archetype. He hates marriages, he hates women, he hates American heiresses looking for husbands, he hates the Marriage Mart, he hates his mother, he hates his father, and I’m sure he hates me too. But he’s a rake though and he’s infamous and everybody is fascinated by him. This includes American heiress Sophia Wilson, a hideously overly perky, overly sensible, too-understanding creature that result from the author’s mistaking “American” for “grating” and “English” for “derivative and tired”.
But James is bankrupt, ta-la-la, so he decides to marry her – and steal her away from his friend. She is beautiful, she is rich, and she is willing to have hot kinky sex with him. Sounds like a nice match, right? Marriage, happily ever after, the book ends at page 120. But no, our hero wants a plain and undemanding wife that he can toss to his momma and forget about! The woman is hot – the wife, not his mother – but he will not show her how much he is affected by her! He will treat her like baggage! This marriage is for convenience only!
Tell me again why shouldn’t I consider this man the freaking village idiot.
But Sophia, ah! Nothing fazes her. She steamrollers her way through with her understanding, perfect, beautiful – and humble, of course, don’t forget humble – ways, winning over the momma, the friends, the men, everybody like the Mary Sue Goliath that she is. The husband is the biggest road block she has, but no problem, she understands. Come back to bed, bay-bee, let Sophia try to virtue her way to making you see light.
In the end, does it matter? We have a hero who makes a big case of wanting an undemanding wife instead of a hot rich sexy wife but we know he will squeal like a spitted pig over a fire if he does get stuck with a fat and plain-faced wife. Sophia is so beautiful, so polite, so wretchedly perky yet humble and selfless, so her gentle laments about her lot in life are comparable to a beautiful rich woman complaining that I have no idea just how tough it is to be her. Yeah, tough. Lose the money and the waist and breasts, and then we’ll see how tough she will have it when she’s merely human like the rest of us. To Marry the Duke is a story of tiny little storms in teapots and teacups exaggerated by a truly moronic hero and a heroine who insists on devaluing her superior looks and worth even as the author smacks me in the face with the Glory of Sophia.
In the end, Sophia writes home for her two sisters (how convenient – three makes a trilogy) in America to come over and marry stupid English noblemen. No doubt these sisters will get stories titled To Tame a Viscount and To Kiss an Earl or something equally derivative.
There are quite a number of scenes in this book where the conversation sparkles, especially surprising when one considers that they are mouthed off by an idiot mule and a heroine who gives sparkling a bad name. In the end, though, the author’s overreliance of stereotypes and formulaic contrivances fail to breathe life or even logic to this story.