Janna MacGregor’s A Duke in Time begins with the heroine’s husband meeting his maker in a most inauspicious manner, and the goofiness keeps coming thick and fast. While the central relationship works fairly well, and the hero is good-hearted and the heroine well-meaning, the plot leans heavily towards the ridiculous.
Lord Meriweather decided to go on a midnight steeplechase in the middle of a downpour, was thrown from his horse and drowned in a mud puddle, so perhaps he was not the most sensible of men. He was a distant husband – literally, as his wife Katherine has not seen him since their wedding day and they spent only six hours together as man and wife (of course they did not consummate the marriage – yes, we have another virgin widow ahoy!) but he kept in touch through infrequent letters home, leaving her with fond memories of him.
Then she learns that her husband was a bigamist with two other wives. And one of them is pregnant. Which suddenly snaps her husband’s constant traveling right into focus for her. So yes, Meriweather was not sensible at all.
Katherine’s love interest lies right over the border. Her brother in law, Christian Vareck, the Duke of Ranford, was off in France fighting in the War of 1812, and he returns home determined to dispense with all of these women his wastrel brother has bilked out of their fortunes, and untangle himself from his youngest brother’s latest mess. Katherine disparaged Christian for caring not a whit for Meriweather during her marriage, but the second she lays her eyes upon the dark-haired, brooding new Duke of Ranford her heart leaps right into her throat. Yep, it’s instalust time!
Christian, meanwhile, has loftier goals – helping the men he led during the war to find work now that their service is over. But he too, looks at Katherine’s shape and form and finds himself attracted. That is, until she starts demanding the dowry her husband squandered on his gambling addiction, which, while a mere two hundred pounds to him means everything to her. With it, she can fund her textile factory and achieve her dream of becoming a linen supplier to the royal family. Together, Christian and Katherine team up to untangle the mess Merriweather left behind and hopefully loose Katherine’s finances. But will Christian be able to overcome the notion of loving his half-brother’s wife? And will Katherine’s secret – the one we don’t hear anything about until near the end – keep them apart for good?
In addition to the ridiculous turns of the plot, this is an incredibly anachronistic historical romance. Formal addresses are not paid attention to, there is no attention paid to etiquette, social mores or graces. It’s an odd little book that really feels like a contemporary paved over with historical icing. I don’t mind if sometimes, the rules of the historical world are bent to in order to make characters more likable, but I DO care when it feels like I’m not genuinely standing in a Regency ballroom watching people sweep by in their gorgeous gowns or ghosting through a room on candle light.
I genuinely liked Katherine and Christian – they’re both good people who care about each other and the others around them, and they seek to make the world better for those around them. Sometimes this makes them terribly anachronistic, but that part I didn’t mind. But Katherine is a Perfect In Bed Virgin Heroine Who Educated Herself (about sex) By Reading Her Husband’s Erotic Poetry; she’s also got a deep dark secret that keeps her from marrying Christian (besides her being his sister in law, which is eventually an issue resolved by a deus ex machina) that just ultimately makes her even more of a saint. These two might make your teeth ache after too much time spent exposed to them.
I liked that Katherine makes friends with her fellow ‘wives’, Beth and Constance, and that she takes them both into her home to shelter them and give them whatever social reprieve they can have. There is indeed very little shunning or shaming from the ton at all; even the fact that Katherine and Christian have sex out of wedlock – which seems to be common knowledge – incurs little censure. I also liked Katherine’s fiery lady’s maid, Willa, who carries a dirk and is about the toughest person in this generally weak narrative.
It’s the strength of the characters that keep A Duke in Time from sinking utterly beneath the waves. It has good characters but the plot and underpinnings of the story feel poorly researched and faulty. It’s not a D-level read but I can’t go any higher than a low-end C for it.
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