Beauty and the Duke
You’ll have to forgive me. This review for Beauty and the Duke appears later than it should have; I simply couldn’t make myself read it any faster.
Christine Sommers is a spinster with ambitions to become a great paleontologist. She has spent most of her life following her father from dig to dig and craves recognition for her skills but has no appropriate prehistoric vehicle find to make them known. Until an old lover, Erik Boughton, the Duke of Sedgwick, appears unexpectedly on her door and dangles a huge and intriguing bone in front of her. The price? Marriage to him.
Christine would really like to become the leading paleontologist of her time, but she doesn’t know if she wants to marry a man who has survived two wives already, one of them her cousin. The Duke of Sedgwick has a bad reputation, he is physically big and psychologically intimidating, but unfortunately Christine has always had a weakness for him. And the rare bones he has are another temptation.
Okay, here’s the deal. This book took me a full three weeks to read. I finished it last night and had to look at the back cover to remember the names of the main characters. Basically I had to force myself through the entire thing. It’s not that the book is bad, exactly. It’s that I had no interest in it at all. None.
Christine is a woman before her time, obviously. She has set up a school for girls so they can develop their talents and abilities. She has years of experience on digs, can scale cliffs, and knows how to explore caves. But despite her many diverse experiences and resistance to conformity, her personality is relatively mild. She naturally manages problems with both Erik’s sister and daughter. She mildly interacts with Sedgwick’s staff. Her lifelong ambitious seem sometimes less intense once she reaches Scotland. Larger-than-life people usually go more against the grain and ruffle more feathers.
The relationship between Christine and Erik is not terribly interesting. We learn early on in the book that they were lovers when they knew each other before (when Christine was a teenager). But their rather unusual young and very sexual relationship is not adequately explored. Instead this is a typical stubborn-and-loving-woman-champions-her-unfairly-reviled-man plot.
There is also a suspense sub-plot that serves to bring the book’s numerous conflicts to head and wrap everything up nicely for all involved. If you can’t guess who is behind Erik and Christine’s difficulties the moment he/she/they show up on the page, you’re not paying attention.
Finally, there is the character of Erik’s mother, a noblewoman with whom he’s had little positive contact and who sided with her husband when it appeared her daughter might be at risk in his house. Erik saved his sister and has shunned his mother ever since. Early in the book she manages to blackmail him out of more maintenance money, but, by book’s end – you guessed it – there’s a reunion of sorts between them. I wasn’t sure what I was supposed to take from that. That forgiveness is divine? That family ties are more important than keeping toxic people away from children? I’m still not sure.
Beauty and the Duke was not a terrible book. It is competently written and didn’t offend me. But none of was interesting to me. Reading it was a hard slog from start to finish, and I can only wish I had that time back.