My Darling Duke
You know a novel’s in trouble when you’re rolling your eyes at the premise four pages into it. Stacy Reid’s My Darling Duke has decent characters, but it well earns its low grade because its characters do not practice the fine art of logic. Only some adept writing and a really interesting hero saves it from the ash heap.
The last thing Lady Katherine – Kitty – Danvers wants to do is get married. Deploring the loveless life of living like a wallflower season after season, she hatches a plan along with her sisters and fellow wallflowers to escape the genteel penury in which she exists.
Kitty’s solution to the family’s issues are simple – she will feign an engagement to the reclusive, not seen for years, mad, bad and dangerous Duke of Thornton. Since the duke is never around, she reasons, surely it will never get back to him that a woman he’s never met is faking an engagement to him (hoo boy).
For Kitty, the risk of discovery is worth it, as she’ll be able to settle her sisters into advantageous marriages through Thornton’s connections, and also ruin herself forever and attain eternal spinsterhood. If that means never having love or a family of her own, it’s okay (not!), because she’s never had a positive marriage mart experience, and after all her family is Awfully Poor. Never mind that Thornton is known as the puppet master and is known for nefarious, underhanded political tactics, everything will work out! Which is why Kitty talks to the international press, so it totally won’t get back to Thornton (Facepalm. FACEPALM!)
A month into Kitty’s scheme, Alexander Masters, said Duke of Thornton, finds out, via his valet (!!) that Kitty has been on his property and is naturally horrified. He has been in seclusion trying to heal from a leg injury, stubbornly refusing to use the wheelchair his doctor recommends even though hobbling around plunges him into agony, and castigates himself as an unlovable, scarred “cripple.” That injury sent his previous fiancée running and screaming from his estate, so naturally he’s not exactly willing to look upon an engagement in a positive way. He’s determined to meet Miss Danvers and set the matter right, but first he approaches her a different way.
Kitty’s very existence appeals to Alex’s curious, treasure-hunting nature. He decides to supply her with gifts while figuring out what could have possibly made her say they were engaged.
The second half of My Darling Duke is a decent romance. But that first half. Whew, that is a kicker.
Kitty does not have a logical idea in her head for half the story, bless her heart. Her sobbing mom and bland sister don’t add a whole lot to the situation either, which helps add to the thick slog of the book.
I liked morose, tough, but loving-in-spite-of-himself Alex. His relationship with his bright-souled sister, Penny, was adorable. I hope she’s a future heroine of the series.
Alex and Kitty’s relationship is…well, a bit hard to swallow. They fall into absolute instalust with one another, even though she, y’know WALKED AROUND ON HIS PROPERTY WITHOUT HIS PERMISSION. They set this aside because, eh, screw it, they’re into each other and they have a similar sense of humor and adventure. This turns out well in the end, and the romance and banter does pick up, but the lack of logic grated on me like nothing else.
None of Kitty’s friends are interesting, which is a shame. Each of the wallflowers has their own predicaments. Maryann, for instance, has been betrothed to a man twice her age and plans to escape marriage by getting herself ruined by a notorious rake (in a book to come, natch). Surely they will burn in purgatory for these wild actions, they think, acting like every Regency heroine since Georgette Heyer learned how to write!
The author throws extra bits of spiky suspense – a carriage falls into a river, political rivalries are hatched – because the book needs a bit of perky action due to the heaviness of its ridiculous plot. As I said, things do pick up in the second half of the book, but by then it’s too little too late.