Duchess by Deception
Marie Force is a very well-known and popular writer of romantic suspense and contemporary romance novels, and is now turning her hand to writing historical romance. Based on this first foray into the genre, I’m afraid I have to say that she should stick to writing what she knows best, because Duchess by Deception is simply awful; it’s based on a flawed premise and is full of more really tired clichés than you can shake a bundle of sticks at.
Derek, Duke of Westwood, came into his title at the tender age of six following the death of his parents in a carriage accident. He has grown into his role and is a dedicated young man who manages his responsibilities admirably and is genuinely concerned for the welfare of all those who depend on him – even moreso as his thirtieth birthday approaches. Because, you see, some ancestor or other put a stipulation in his will that the holders of the title MUST be married by the age of thirty, or they will forfeit it and the dukedom will pass to the next heir. And Derek, with just a week or so go to before his thirtieth birthday, hasn’t yet found a woman he wants to marry. The new crop of debutantes each Season are more vacuous than the last, (and don’t get me started on the sexism inherent in statements like this – “Is there one among them who cares about anything other than her hair or her gown or her slippers?”) – and while he isn’t necessarily holding out for a love match, he does want a wife with whom he can hold intelligent conversations and share affectionate companionship.
Okay, so now let’s rewind. Derek must marry by his thirtieth birthday or abdicate his title. Er, nope. British inheritance law doesn’t work like that. It does not allow for a peer to make any stipulations of this sort as to how his title progresses; a title is not a possession and thus is not something that can be bequeathed or have conditions attached to it. For instance, the Queen doesn’t have a say in who succeeds her (although in very, very exceptional circumstances, I daresay she could, which would involve all sorts of constitutional upheaval and acts of Parliament) and as far as I know, this goes for the peerage as well. So the novel’s plot is based on a completely erroneous premise, which, in my book, is enough to sink it without trace.
Derek, being the conscientious young man he is, is determined to do his duty and find a wife by his birthday, especially as his current heir is his father’s brother – Derek’s uncle – who is a grasping, dastardly individual who has always wanted the title for himself (he and Derek’s father were twins and Anthony was born second) because he deserved it. It was he who engineered the accident that killed Derek’s parents (this isn’t a spoiler, as it’s revealed in the first chapter) and he still chafes that Derek wasn’t with them, as he was supposed to have been – and so his evil plot to become the Duke was foiled. Can I get a ‘MUAHAHAHAHA’? And just in case we aren’t clear about Anthony’s ambitions, his mistress is there to hit readers over the head with a tea-tray:
“You ponder the fate of your nephew and the duchy you covet.”
Anthony raised an imperious brow. “It is rather impertinent for (of?) you to speak so boldly of things that are none of your concern.”
Seriously? I wonder if Ms. Force has read any historical romance since the 1980s.
Anyway. While travelling back to his estate, Derek comes across a filthy boy in shoddy clothing digging in a field. Wondering why there is a filthy boy in shoddy clothing digging in one of his fields, Derek stops to ask questions, the boy bolts, Derek catches him, the boy passes out – but not before his cap falls off to reveal long dark tresses… and lo! ‘tis the heroine in disguise. Arrived at his ancestral pile, Derek’s protective instincts are on high alert, and even though the young woman is dirty and smelly, he unaccountably wants to care for her, crawl into bed next to her and “hold her until the fever broke…” So he does. (After she’s had a bath, natch.)
When she awakens and is told she’s at the Duke of Westwood’s estate, the young woman – Catherine – is immediately fearful and makes clear her dislike of peers of the realm, so Derek decides not to tell her he’s a duke, but instead introduces himself as the estate manager because he wants to know more about her. But that has to be put on hold while they get back into bed for spurious reasons and cuddling and flirting ensues. She’s just woken from a fever, they don’t know each other, they’ve barely said two words to each other and yet she comes up with things like:
“How do you expect me to sleep with a big, rutting beast in my bed?”
To which he responds:
“Have no fear, my dear lady. Your shrewishness has caused my ‘thing’ to wither and die… I can assure you that you’re entirely safe from my fornicating tendencies”
And then she wonders – what, exactly, was that tingle between her legs?
Jesus H. Christ on a cracker. We’re 11% into the book by this point, by the way.
In a nutshell. Catherine is running from the slobbery old bloke she’s supposed to marry and doesn’t want anything to do with the aristocracy. Two days after their first meeting, she and Derek are sucking face and then shagging (and joy of joys, she gets to say “It will never fit!”) and at the 30% mark, they’re running off to Gretna Green to get married, presumably so he can marry her without revealing his true identity, which is dumb, but no dumber than the other dumb stuff in this dumb book.
No prizes for guessing what happens next.
The writing is stilted and often unintentionally funny (see quotes above) – not what I’d expect from an experienced author – and the characters are barely two dimensional. Given Ms. Force is known for writing steamy sex scenes, the ones in this book are dull and there is zero chemistry between the leads. There’s a secondary romance that also takes off like a rocket, between Derek’s cousin (Anthony’s son) and Catherine’s younger sister, and to call the villainous Anthony ‘cartoonish’ is, frankly, to insult cartoon villains the world over.
I’ve said enough for you to realise that you should give this book a wide berth – unless you’re a masochist or just want a good laugh at the terrible dialogue. If you’ve never read Marie Force before, do yourself a favour and read the excellent Five Years Gone, or one of her romantic suspense titles. I hope she’s not going to stop writing those, because in spite of its lovely cover and less-used setting of 1902 (which is largely irrelevant to the story anyway), Duchess by Deception is terrible.