Betting on the Duke's Heart
Betting on a Duke’s Heart is a book with potential but in need of a good edit. I liked the idea of a heroine of Indian and English descent and the way the author weaves Indian folklore and history into the story but the plot is bogged down with too many tangents and the writing style fluctuates between ‘strong’ and ‘wildly confusing’. A good editor, who could cut about 100 pages, tighten up the plot, and reword the awkward sentences would have gone a long way to making Royaline Sing’s début novel more enjoyable.
Dina Campbell has the great misfortune of having a renowned racehorse as her dowry. She has been hounded by horse-mad gentlemen since her father announced it and now she is being pursued by the Duke of Saxton, Aetius White. Her father has agreed to the match but Dina would rather stay single and chase her dream of translating Indian folktales than be stuck in a loveless marriage with a horse-mad husband.
Aetius White’s dream is to own a horse that wins the Triple Crown. It was his father’s obsession and Aetius plans to make that desire come true. He has spent his adulthood rebuilding his family’s fortune and reputation, and winning the Triple Crown would complete its redemption. Dina is a means to an end. He likes her but he needs that horse. Dina’s father is making it impossible for her to refuse Aetius, so she makes a deal with him. They will get to know each other through a series of contests. If he wins the contests, she’ll marry him. If she wins, he’ll beg off and she’ll be free to pursue her dreams.
I love the idea of this romance – two people thrown together for different reasons, a series of contests that bring them closer, a romance budding out of friendship and unwanted attraction. I also loved the way Dina’s Indian heritage played a role in the story. She’s a terrific heroine – very sure of what she wants but aware of the needs of those around her, and patient with Aetius and his insecurities. Aetius was harder to like – he’s so afraid of being left that he’s created walls around his heart and lashes out with unkind, thoughtless words too often. When the Big Misunderstanding came, his insecurity kept the couple apart for way too long. I quickly tired of reading about his fears over and over again!
At 390 pages, Betting on a Duke’s Heart is about 100 pages longer than most historical romances written today, and there is simply too much going on. A Big Misunderstanding, blackmail, a tortured hero (mostly self-inflicted), horse training, horse racing, horse mating, flashbacks, rebuilding friendships, reuniting with parents, Indian dances… Add to that the lengthy inner monologues and we’ve got a Christmas tree hidden by the ornaments. The actual idea for the story is clever but it’s like looking for the needle in the haystack. If the author hadn’t actually reminded me of the contest and the budding romance occasionally, I would have forgotten all about them!
I was also pulled out of the story by strange sentence structures like:
His furious breaths mixed with her own, which heaved more than a smith’s blowing machine over the anvil.
The dark, long stretch of the track soaked up all the attention the humans gave it.
Now she did lay her palm on his, which rested on his knee.
And then there were phrases that jolted me:
… illegible screeches rang in his ears; sparks flowing from her nostrils; Dina’s curiosity was eating her heart; the real crack in the wall of his skull; an ugly worm niggled in his head; butterflies started making a jolly good smashing ball in her stomach; the sight of her prone form, limp on the dark ground, still caused spiders to crawl over his shoulders to his spine, ripping his flesh.
I was also surprised that the first love scene took place after Dina and Aetius had watched horses breeding. This is not an aphrodisiac. I’ll spare you the details. And one last thing that bothered me… Aetius owns one of the first horseless carriages in England. He takes Dina for a ride and then lets her drive, which she does, without much problem. This just didn’t seem possible to me – learning to drive a car is hard, especially if this is the first time you’ve been in one and, in this case, likely the first piece of machinery Dina had personally encountered. I like my story details plausible!
Like I said, a good editor would have gone a long way to saving this book. There was potential here but the final product falls short of one I can recommend.