Only a Duke Will Do
I understand the challenges facing authors of English Historicals today and the need to make their latest book different without modifying the setting so many of us adore. But in an attempt to offer yet another variation in theme or feature an even more unconventional character, many of these historicals slip beyond the implausible and into land of absurdity. In the end, it’s a crooked picture that’s painted rather than a distinctive story to remember.
After skillfully serving as Governor-General for seven years in India, Simon Tremaine, the Duke of Foxmoor, has returned to England determined to make a difference. He wants to overhaul the House of Commons to represent more than just the wealthiest landowners and to be attentive to the discontented voices. He knows the old guard will not respond well to suggestions of reform and realizes he must proceed carefully in his pursuit of the office. It will take playing his cards right and he will need the support of the King – after all, the King owes him his support.
Simon’s original goals for a life of politics within the borders of England changed after foolishly agreeing to assist George III – then the Regent – in a plan to get Louisa North, Prinny’s bastard daughter, to unknowingly meet her father privately. In an attempt to gain enough of Louisa’s trust to facilitate the meeting, Simon became a little too interested in Louisa himself and was discovered passionately kissing her when Prinny arrived. When Louisa realized that all those ardent promises Simon had made to gain her trust were false, she became incensed at his deception and begged that Simon be banished from England.
The King has a new favor to ask of Simon now that his success in India has clearly proven him to be a leader. This time he wants Simon to marry Louisa and the King will ensure in exchange that he is chosen as prime minister. But it is more than marrying Louisa that the King wants – he wants to see an end to her involvement in the London Ladies Society since her rebellious Joan of Arc appeal can only spell trouble for the King.
Simon and Louisa reunite at a grand formal affair his sister has given in honor of her husband (To Pleasure a Prince). Simon arrives with a monkey on his shoulder – a monkey he is actually talking with. This led me to roll my eyes a bit on the very first page and, as I expected, the monkey misbehaves and makes quite a scene. It left me wondering just what kind of Duke would bring a monkey to such an affair. Of course, Louisa wants nothing to do with Simon and a battle of the wills is on. Louisa will show Simon that she is now quite good at hiding her true feelings and Simon is determined to not only have her as his wife, but also make her fall in love with him in the process.
Both Simon and Louisa are very strong, or should I say, stubborn characters. Neither will let the other get the better of them and though at times their discourse was witty and sometimes moving, most of all I saw it as bickering. There are well over 200 pages of such bickering and it definitely proved to be a drain on my energy. Simon excels at outwitting Louisa while advancing his plans for marriage and he sees her attempts to play him for a fool as more of an inconvenience than any sort of rejection.
At one moment I found myself savoring Simon and Louisa’s latest interaction only to find myself irritated a few pages later. This pattern repeats itself so often that it reminds me of my overall up and down reading experience with Sabrina Jeffries. I have read eight of her books and in the process added two DIKs to my keeper shelf, but the remaining books (all Bs or Cs) swung from true like to barely tolerable.
As Simon whittles to help himself think, all the psychobabble Louisa lays on him sounds wise for just a moment until one realizes it is entirely too contemporary for 1820s London. And of course, both Simon and Louisa are tortured in some way. Apparently an event in India haunts Simon while an experience with the death of a loved one has left Louisa determined not to marry. Neither of these plot elements do much to enhance the depth of the book and make it more ordinary than anything. But then there are the far from ordinary training methods Simon endured growing up that are too despicable for believability.
An uneven story at best, Only a Duke Will Do does have its moments. There were times Simon’s alpha tendencies were just to my liking and other times I considered the book pretty sexy. But as many C grades go, those moments were overshadowed by the more annoying times causing me to be drawn out of the story rather than into it.