Avon, $7.99, ISBN 978-0-06-222254-1
Historical Romance, 2016
Now I understand how those people feel when they grumble that so-and-so is rebooting their favorite stories in a grating way. While You Were Sleeping, a movie starring Sandra Bullock and Bill Pullman, among others, is one of my favorite romantic comedies. Okay, the plot wasn’t the best ever, and it could get very sentimental, but it was a Christmas movie, after all, and really, both leads really sold the whole thing with their chemistry and, more importantly, Ms Bullock’s earnest and adorable portrayal of a woman who was so alone in the world that she couldn’t resist going through the lengths of her charade.
The plot of While the Duke Was Sleeping is almost identical to that of the movie, and there are moments when the scenes are basically the same as those in the movie, reframed to be set into… whenever this story takes place. Regency, Victorian – it doesn’t matter when the setting is basically wallpaper. Anyway, Poppy Fairchild is a shopgirl, and the Duke of Autenberry is a regular customer. She is convinced that he is The One (yes, with capital letters and all) the moment she sees him, and weaves a fantasy of him being the most perfect, chivalrous man ever… even when he comes in every week to purchase flowers to be sent to a different woman and all. That’s okay – a man that gorgeous deserves to be a rake, and he’s just that way because he hasn’t met The One yet. And, of course, she hopes that The One of his is going to be Her One, if you know what I mean.
One day, Autenberry gets into a quite violent skirmish with a handsome man, and Poppy decides that she has to fling herself into the skirmish to save Her One. Just like the movie, she ends up being mistaken for Autenberry’s fiancée and is accepted by his family, while Autenberry’s illegitimate brother, Struan Mackenzie, broods and looks at her with suspicion. Unlike Jack in the movie, Struan hates his half-brother’s guts and the feeling is mutual, and he has never met his father’s family until he rescues Poppy (he’s the one fighting with Struan) and delivers her to Autenberry’s family. Of course, Poppy and Struan fall in love, blah blah blah.
Now, While You Were Sleeping works because of several things. Lucy is all alone in the world, and she is very, very lonely. Christmas is around the corner, and she is very vulnerable, as a result, to doing stupid things to be a little longer with a family that accepts her into their midst. Here, however, Poppy has a sister – we all need reasons to continue a series, after all – and, instead of showing me that our heroine is lonely and vulnerable, the author instead ends up turning poor Poppy into a delusional ninny who needs to be at the receiving end of a reality wake-up call ASAP. For so long, she clings to the fantasy that she has to love that dude in a coma who doesn’t even know her, and comes off looking like a brain-damaged puppy as a result. And we put those unfortunate creatures down out of mercy, rather than casting them in romantic stories.
Jack is a charming beta-male whose deceptively simple, jovial façade hides some complicated feelings – he loves his brother and looks up to him, despite knowing that, deep inside, he will always be seen as the inferior sibling, and yet, his feelings for Lucy makes him feel bitterly envious of Peter for the first time in his life. Despite his feelings, it is his respect for his brother, and perhaps his insecurities leading him to believe that Lucy will never choose him over the sibling everyone assumes to be the better person, that keep him from telling Lucy how he feels. Here, Struan is a more straightforward romance hero, almost to the point of being a cliché (the bastard son who is better than the legitimate heir, broody, comes with all the same old baggage, etc), and as a result, he is boring compared to Jack.
The movie is sweet, charming, comedy, awww moments, and has a leading couple that puts on a very winning performance. Here, the couple is boring, familiar, and often too silly in an eye-rolling “Are you kidding me?” manner. I should have trusted my instincts and quit reading after four chapters, to go re-watch the movie instead. That’s While You Were Sleeping, by the way. While the Duke Was Sleeping is just the cheap, inferior knock-off, so let’s not get these two mixed up.