A Duke Changes Everything
A Duke Changes Everything is the first book in Christy Carlyle’s new series set in the early Victorian Era. It features a reluctant duke who happens to own a successful London gaming club – seriously, nineteenth century London – the historical romance edition – not only has about a million more dukes than could feasibly exist, but it seems the entire city consists of gambling establishments owned by aristocrats. It’s become such an over-used character type that my eyes are starting to glaze over whenever I read a synopsis in which the words ‘duke’ (or earl) and ‘gambling club’ appear in the same sentence.
Anyway. This particular duke has absolutely no interest in being one. Nicholas Lyons is the second son of the Duke of Tremayne, who, from the sound of it, was completely insane. Believing Nick to have been the product of his wife’s infidelity, the old duke hated his younger son and subjected him to unbelievable cruelty before the duchess was able to get them both away to France. When she died, Nick was just sixteen and he returned to England penniless, determined to make his own way and wanting nothing whatsoever to do with his family. After his father died, the title passed to Nick’s older brother, Eustace – and it’s the latter’s recent death that sees Nick now saddled with a dukedom and attendant duties and estates he doesn’t need or want. His memories of Enderley Castle are far from happy ones, and so naturally, the last thing he wants is to set foot in the place, but he knows he’ll have to if he’s going to carry out his plan of selling everything of value, setting the place to rights and then leasing it out.
Mina Thorne has lived at Enderley her entire life, and seeing the previous duke took no interest in the place, took over her late father’s role as steward. She’s highly competent and genuinely cares for the land and its inhabitants, although naturally the local gentry shake their heads disapprovingly and insist it isn’t proper for her to hold such a position.
After Nick and Mina’s initial meeting – Nick arrives at the estate a day or so before he’d originally intended and comes upon her while she’s stuck up a tree rescuing a very pregnant cat – the story focuses on developing their working relationship and subsequent romance. Nick tells Mina he’s only going to be at Enderley for a couple of weeks, for as long as it takes for him to assess the situation, see what can be sold and order whatever repairs are needed to make the place fit for habitation; while Mina is determined to persuade him to take up residence, or at least keep the house and lands rather than rent them out. She decides the best way to do this is to show him the best of the place – the house, the grounds, the local farms, where some tenants have adopted more modern methods of working in order to get the job done. This obviously allows them to spend time getting to know each other, too, and the chemistry between them simmers along nicely, both of them acknowledging that their mutual attraction is unwise, but also unable to ignore it.
I liked the way that they gradually come to trust each other and Nick begins to tell Mina what he went through as a child. They converse intelligently, and there’s a sense of admiration and respect developing between them at the same time as their attraction builds. The trouble is, though, that there’s nothing to make this novel stand out from the plethora of other, similar ones – of which there are more than you can shake a stick at. The conflict in the story is mostly external, provided by a nasty, horse-whipping neighbour and a disgruntled former patron of Lyon’s club who is out for revenge, both of whom are dispensed with fairly quickly. Nick and Mina are decent people but are fairly bland in spite of the author’s attempts to make them interesting. Nick is another in a long line of heroes who had a truly craptastic childhood, pulled himself up by his bootstraps and believes himself to be a veritable monster and all-round terrible person – scarred, ruthless, dangerous – but really, he’s just a big old softie who’s nowhere near as mean as he thinks he is, unless it’s to give someone their just desserts (like people who won’t or can’t pay their gambling debts, who deserve exactly what they get as far as I’m concerned). And Mina was, supposedly, constantly told by her father that she wasn’t ladylike enough, that she was too emotional and impulsive – but it’s a case of telling and not showing. Other than her becoming a steward – which didn’t happen until after her father died – none of those criticisms are supported by her actions. She tells us on a few occasions how hard she’s always striven – and still strives – to curb those tendencies, but she doesn’t really display any of them.
This is very much a character-driven story, which I appreciated – but the author’s attempts to introduce some last-minute drama by means of a mini-misunderstanding and a scenario involving completely unnecessary peril fall totally flat, and by the time I got to the epilogue wherein Lyon’s turned into a nineteenth century version of Dragon’s Den (which was, as the series title is The Duke’s Den, I suppose inevitable) I was clichéd out.
A Duke Changes Everything is a decent read and the central romance is well done, but it’s pretty unoriginal. I can’t say I wasn’t engaged by it while I was reading, but I know I won’t remember much – if anything – about it a week from now.