A Good Day to Marry a Duke
Betina Krahn is one of those authors I’ve been meaning to read for ages and haven’t got around to. Most of her books were published before I got into reading romance in a big way, and she’s one of several authors whose backlists I mean to explore … when I get the time. Happily for me, however, Ms. Krahn has embarked upon a new historical romance series entitled Sin and Sensibility, affording me the chance to sample something new from her. In the first book, A Good Day to Marry a Duke, we find an American heiress crossing the Atlantic – as did many so-called ‘dollar princesses’ in the late nineteenth century – in order to marry a titled gentleman. She sets her sights upon the young and somewhat gauche Arthur Graham, Duke of Meridian, but she reckons without the havoc wreaked upon her emotions (and her libido) by his younger brother, Ashton, widely known as a rake of the highest order.
Daisy Bumgarten – and honestly, that name? Are we supposed to think the heroine is a joke before the story even starts? – comes from a family whose money is so new that even the nouveau riche of New York society look down on them. When Daisy scandalises all the other ladies present at the Bellington Hunt by wearing trousers under her skirts, riding astride, taking all the fences alongside the men and swigging spirits from her uncle’s flask, her mother is horrified and furiously points out that not only has Daisy ruined her own reputation by her reckless behaviour, but she has also scuppered her sisters’ reputations as well. Daisy – at last – realises the enormity of what she’s done and decides she must make amends, so two years after the disastrous hunt, she travels to England with her uncle Redmond (Red) Strait and, having secured the sponsorship of the Countess of Kew, prepares to enter society and snare herself a duke. What better way to make it up to her mother and restore her sisters’ chances of marrying well?
The duke in question is Arthur, the Duke of Meridian, a somewhat retiring young man whose interests lie in botany and the natural sciences to the exclusion of almost all else. He’s not bad looking, he’s sweet, intelligent and good hearted, but although it seems that the Graham family isn’t exactly flush, Arthur’s elderly uncles and aunt (who live with him) are completely opposed to the idea of his marrying American money. They summon Daisy to their presence and make no attempt to hide their disdain, insisting that if she is to be allowed anywhere near their nephew, she must prove she has noble blood in her veins. Never one to baulk at a challenge, Daisy determines to find that proof – and agrees that whatever she finds must be authenticated by the duke’s younger brother, Ashton, who may be a libertine but who is also an historian of some skill and renown.
Lord Ashton Graham is the black sheep of the family. He loves his brother dearly, and has ever been his champion, whether against the bullies at school or their exacting relatives at home, but his refusal to kowtow to them means they barely tolerate him and that he is practically penniless. Like them, however, he isn’t happy about the idea of Arthur marrying an American title-hunter, and when his uncles and aunt offer to pay him to sabotage Daisy’s hopes of becoming a duchess, he isn’t in a position to refuse. When they even go so far as so suggest that Ashton use his “natural proclivities to the family’s advantage ” and seduce her, Ashton reflects that it won’t be a hardship; Daisy is pretty and curvaceous and, he’s already deduced from his few encounters with her so far, sexually curious, so it shouldn’t be too difficult either.
Daisy falls in lust with Ashton the first time she meets him (without knowing, at that point, who he is) but is determined that she will not be diverted from her purpose, especially as she soon realises that Arthur needs rescuing from his horrible family, who constantly belittle him and treat him like a child. But Ashton won’t simply go away; he accompanies her, the countess and Red on a journey to Oxford and thence to Bristol in order to uncover the evidence of Daisy’s noble lineage. During the course of their association, each gains a new appreciation for the other; Daisy discovers that Ashton is a highly intelligent man whose life hasn’t been as easy as she had assumed, while Ashton realises that Daisy’s pursuit of his brother is motivated by reasons that are not purely selfish. He also comes to see that she is just what Arthur needs to pull him out of his blinkered and sheltered existence; her spirit and zest for life will balance his reserve and help to open his eyes to the wider world around him and the possibilities it offers. How can Ashton possibly deprive the brother he loves of the woman Arthur so clearly needs at his side?
The storyline is a familiar one and the love-triangle plot device isn’t particularly successful (Arthur is likeable, but there’s never any question as to which brother is going to win Daisy’s hand and heart), but the biggest issue I had with the book as a whole is that the execution is uneven. The first half drags and is hampered by the rather stereotypical characters and lots of mental lusting. Daisy is your classic American ‘breath-of-fresh-air’ miss who rides, shoots and drinks like a man and hates the rigours of the conventions within which she must live. Her references to her ‘Chuck Worth’ dresses make her seem ignorant and she finds it nigh on impossible not to think about sex whenever she so much as glimpses Ashton, and then berates herself for being wanton: It was her regrettable nature to be susceptible to the temptations of the flesh. Ashton is your typical gorgeous, dark, sex-on-a-stick rakish hero with a heart of gold; Arthur is childlike in his naïveté and the aunt and uncles are cartoonish villains, at best.
The second half of the novel is much more engaging and is where most of the conflict and emotional meat of the story is housed; we get to know more about Arthur and are privy to his gradual awakening to his responsibilities and to the realisation that he has been cheated by his relatives, and the author – via Ashton – makes some good points about the degree to which responsibility and duty will inform Daisy’s life should she become a duchess. In spite of Daisy’s frequent lustful thoughts about Ashton, the chemistry between the two is fairly mild, and while I’ve given the book a sensuality rating of ‘warm’, the sex scenes are very tame by modern standards and I almost went with ‘subtle’.
A Good Day to Marry a Duke seemed like a book of two halves. The first gets a C and the second a B, so I’m plumping for a B- overall, and a qualified recommendation because the increased momentum, insight and emotional nuance contained within the second half deserves it. You may enjoy the book more than I did if you happen to like the type of heroine Daisy represents (not my favourite) and can manage not to roll your eyes too hard at the way the supposed love-triangle is resolved.