Blame it on the Duke
Blame It on the Duke is the third book of Lenora Bell’s Disgraceful Dukes series and it’s fitting that I’m the third reviewer here at All About Romance to give her a try. It’s always down to a roll of the dice as to whether a new author will produce a story that knocks your socks off or grinds your enjoyment into the dust. Unfortunately Lenora Bell had her mortar and pestle ready and I cannot say that it was third time lucky for her.
The story opens with Nicholas, Marquess of Hatherly entertaining several of his ribald friends with a musical starring a naked opera singer. Nick is a connoisseur of any vice he can get his privileged hands on all in the name of living life to the fullest. Escaping into a willing woman’s arms or a bottle of French brandy is a way of coping with his father’s slow descent into madness and his own resigned acceptance that the family curse of losing one’s mind will eventually affect him too. Nick has no plans to change his lifestyle since the Hatherly line will die off with him, so why bother marrying?
His carefully planned evening of debauchery is interrupted when his father, the Duke of Barrington, suddenly appears on the stage during the singer’s solo. Trying the get the Duke off stage turns the performance into a comedy as he proclaims to all that he has gambled away his son in a hand of cards. Nick is furious to learn that the person he’d hired to watch his father was sneaking the older man out of the house to a gambling hell. In a lucid moment, the Duke confesses that the wager was either losing their ancestral London home or having Nick marry the daughter of an upstart baronet. There is no way that Nick will accept the terms of the wager quietly so the following day he goes to confront Sir Alfred Tombs for taking advantage of his father’s weak mind.
On the other side of town Miss Alice Tombs is informed that despite her wishes to remain unmarried her father has betrothed her to the scandalous Lord Hatherly. Alice is not the typical English rose, instead having a desire for knowledge and a knack with languages including Sanskrit. A marriage would curtail her plans to travel to India where she will present her translation of an ancient Indian text she found in her great-grandfather’s belongings. Translating the dead language has been a challenge but the reward was discovering the parchments contained verses of the philosopher Vātsyāyana’s Kamasutra, complete with vivid descriptions of the physical acts between a man and woman.
When Nick arrives at her home to try and break the betrothal, Alice agrees with him that a marriage between them would be a mistake. It is only when Nick learns of Alice’s plans to leave the country that they reconsider their position. Being a married marchioness would give Alice more freedoms than she has as an unmarried woman, so traveling alone to another country wouldn’t be as difficult. Having a wife practically a world away would serve Nick’s purposes to keep his degenerate lifestyle. It’s a win-win for the two of them when Alice sweetens the pot by requesting that Nick use his considerable bedroom skills to educate her about some of the ideas she’s only read about in the Kamasutra. Both are certain that a purely physical relationship is perfect for the two months they’ll be together before Alice’s planned trip to India, yet two months is enough for secret longings and hearts to get involved in what was supposed to be a strictly convenient marriage.
The premise for Blame It on the Duke is silly; however I’ve read other books where a blushing virgin gets lessons in love from an experienced rake that make the formulaic plotline work. If that had been the extent of the problems in this story I would have been content to grade it a C and then move on to other things. Unfortunately there are many issues with Ms. Bell’s writing, and the overall feeling of confusion I got while reading made me shake my head and wonder how this book got past a beta reader or editor.
Let’s start with Nick, who is probably one of the worst fake-rakes I’ve ever encountered. He’s got a pretty sordid reputation but all of that scandal seems to conveniently melt away once he’s introduced to Alice. He agrees to their marriage because he doesn’t see her as a temptation against all the loose and beautiful women available to shag. Of course, once he kisses her he’s smitten and those dreams of other women are easily forgotten. Alice becomes his sexual focus and he starts giving her his best moves and come-on lines. I mean, who wouldn’t drop her drawers for a man who says sexy things like:
“I’ll taste the wine later,” Nick said in a low, intimate voice. “On your lips.”
“This is where the magic happens, Dimples.”
“I never eat sweets. And you’re all the sugar I need.”
The man is an absolute poet! ‘Dimples’, by the way, is the annoying pet name he comes up with for Alice at their first meeting. I just can’t see any Regency gentleman coming up with that nickname for a gently bred woman, but considering the smarmy way he tries to seduce her it just falls right into the ridiculousness of it all.
That Alice, a woman whose appreciation for words and language is stressed almost ad nauseum, falls for these cheesy lines is another problem. She swears to herself up and down that she’s above swooning for any man no matter how handsome he is, and yet within minutes of their first kiss she’s dreaming of all the positions she’s read in the Kamasutra that they can try together. I cannot understand how an author can write about a time where a woman could have been ruined by simply talking to a man unchaperoned and still have her so sexually liberated that something like the Kamasutra doesn’t scandalize her. Sure, we’re meant to believe that Alice is looking at the text in a scholarly way, but that’s a lot like saying a man reads Playboy for the articles.
There are several other threads within Blame It on the Duke that had me rolling my eyes, and it was all just too much to filter past my reality-o-meter. Ms. Bell obviously has a following of readers who have made her other books successful but I can’t count myself among the converted. This wasn’t a good historical romance and new readers should probably steer clear.