Duke Darcy's Castle
Syrie James’ Duke Darcy’s Castle combines some interesting ideas with some poor or clichéd ones. Ultimately the book scores just below the level of recommendation because of them.
Kathryn Atherton, a college-educated architectural student and assistant, who is also an heiress, has experienced a long trail of misogyny. Being a single American woman working in England, born of a social climbing mother whose marital ambitions she has rejected, she’s had many a door slammed in her face even as she tries to climb her way toward her goal – becoming Britain’s first female architect. That is, until her boss, George Patterson, selects her for an important job. Thrown from his horse and unable to tend to the restoration of St. Gabriel’s Mount, George has sent Kathryn and her credentials in his stead to take measurements and make initial drawings based upon the owner’s specifications. After three weeks, Kathryn will return to George, who will complete the final drawings and return to oversee its remodeling.
Lance Granville, the tenth Duke of Darcy, has recently come into the title through tragic means. At the passing of his brother Hayward, Lance was forced to resign his commission in the Royal Navy and return from Barcelona to assume the ducal mantle and responsibilities. He soon realizes that Hayward arranged for these redesigns in order to prepare for the sale of the estate; the house has been mortgaged to the hilt, and Lance needs to amass around sixty-eight thousand pounds in the next three months if he’s to get the castle and its holdings out of hock. If he can’t, he’ll lose possession of both it and the surrounding town. He plans to get the necessary cash injection by marrying a comely heiress a project he is loath to accomplish, as he loved his independent life as a captain. But loyalty – to his beloved grandmother, to the people of the village – keeps him on this reluctant course.
He’s astonished that the architect is a woman, and though he has no money to pay her, protests that he cannot accept her services because she’s female. She proves her worth with a quick, inventive sketch, and Lance changes his mind about reneging.
Soon she’s bonding with Lance’s grandmother and making out with Lance on his billiards table. But business almost instantly mixes with pleasure; by the time Lance discovers Kathryn comes from money, the idea of marrying a rich woman for both pleasure and profit seems palatable. Can Kathryn keep her job and be a Duchess? Or will Lance’s little loan-based secret come out into the open and spoil things?
Duke Darcy’s Castle does have a few things going for it. I loved Lance’s arch and spirited grandmother, and I liked Kathryn, stubborn though she was, and her driven determination to succeed in her field. I also liked that she wasn’t a virgin, that she had happily explored her sexual curiosity before and that Lance is the one to further pique it.
Lance is a decent hero, though a bit whiny about having to give up sailing and grow up to live out his estate’s best interests.
They have a good, solid sexual chemistry, but the book’s biggest problem is that the sexual and romantic relationship between the hero and heroine develops far too rapidly. Within hours of their first meeting – when they’re barely more than strangers and have shared little about themselves – they end up drunkenly tussling on a billiards table, to the point where her bloomers are coming off before he realizes she’s passed out. That is instalust agogo 101, never mind the consent issues inherent in drunken sex. Kathryn says, after the fact, that she was 100 percent consenting, and once Lance realizes she’s out cold he does put her clothing back into place, but they were nonetheless both intensely inebriated during the encounter.
The conflict between them is too pat and easy to predict from the outset. Lance needs to convince her he didn’t try to seduce her for her money; Kathryn has to put aside her pride to accomplish love and work goals. There are few surprises along the way, no matter how appealing these two are as a couple. At least Lance gives good grovel, and the world in which Kathryn must operate is well-established.
In the end Duke Darcy’s Castle works decently and is an okay way to pass the time but lacks the true spark necessary to land on a reader’s keeper shelf.