Tall, Duke and Dangerous
Megan Frampton’s books have always been a frustration to me. Her plots are fun, the spirit of her writing light-hearted or at least entertainingly tropey, and her actual output not horrifically bad, and yet her stories dangle frustratingly out of DIK range for me, suffering from nonsensical plotting, a lack of special spark or poor historical research. Sadly, the somewhat repetitive Tall, Duke and Dangerous doesn’t break that cycle
Ignatius – Nash – Duke of Malvern, manages to flash his grandmother the dowager duchess upon meeting her for the first time. His day just goes downhill from there, as she conducts a Come to Jesus meeting with him.
Nash, you see, needs to Do His Duty, but his fearsome reputation for his wicked temper, tendency to flout convention, penchant for wanting to be alone and remain single, and the emotional scars resulting from his physically abusive father – who abused Nash and his mother – have left him lacking in prospects. His mother escaped for parts unknown during Nash’s childhood, sending her son concerned letters that were smuggled to him by servants, and his grandmother was expressly forbidden from ever seeing him. The dowager duchess is sympathetic to Nash and to his plight, having recognized his father for the horrible person he was, and since she wants to keep Nash’s cousin – spendthrift and violent as Nash’s father was – from the title, she vows to help her grandson find a suitable wife.
Lady Ana Maria Dutton, meanwhile, endured the Cinderella treatment from her stepmother for over twenty years (um, see below). Both stepmother and papa died in a carriage accident six months before, and her cousin – the new Duke of Hasford – raises her from life among the ashes as the kitchen help to fancy balls and expensive dresses. Her former friends are now her servants, and the dichotomy between her past life and her new one leaves her feeling uncomfortable.
Ana Maria and Nash have been friends since they were children – in fact, Ana Maria’s brother, Sebastian (Never Kiss a Duke), is Nash’s best friend – and no one understands Nash quite the way she does. Unfortunately, Nash goes into alpha-protector mode whenever real or imagined danger threatens Ana Maria, and instead of immediate romance, they strike a bargain; Nash will teach Ana Maria self defense so that she can protect herself from her handsy suitors, and she will teach him etiquette and comportment so he’ll attract a marriageable prospect at one of those society balls. Naturally, this brings them into closer contact, and Ana Maria asks for lessons in “fucking” to match the ones she’s gotten in fighting. But will true love ever blossom between them?
Tall, Duke and Dangerous reads like a mashup of Beauty and the Beast and Cinderella, but manages only an echo of the charm of either. Frampton continues to have a way with light humor, and to at least have funny if unmemorable supporting characters on-page. The problem, as always with her work, is everything else in the book.
Ana Maria isn’t a bad person, no matter how improbable her backstory is, even though she’s another one of those heroines who wants to traipse through the dodgy parts of London to look at bolts of cloth and sit in taverns at night. Nash’s repetitive inner monologues (do not drink a shot every single time he thinks to himself that he’s Ana Maria’s “protector”, you will have alcohol poisoning within chapters), his continual dwelling on his father’s condemnation (“You take after me. In every way.”), boorish behavior, and willingness to come ThisClose to debauching his friend/best friend’s little sister does not make him interesting, and nor does the author’s application of Tragic Hero Backstory #2 excuse his behavior. Together, the pair of them are at least funny and companionable.
And speaking of backstories, they trip the book up. We’re told Ana Maria’s stepmother kept her in servitude for twenty years – but she’s only twenty years old. Was she toddling about in rags with a little broom? And why did her father tolerate it, and how did the fact that the woman and her husband were forcing a well-bred young woman of Proper Stock sleep in the attic with the servants not leak out to the ton?
There is a whole subplot in which Nash hires as many of his father’s bastards as he can as household servants to keep them from harm, an incredibly uncomfortable situation that causes no apparent dismay for Nash’s amusingly crusty grandmother, Nash, or the servants themselves, who may or may not know about their true linage.
The tone of the book – considering all of the abuse that Nash has gone through and seen – is remarkably sprightly and cheerful. But Tall, Duke and Handsome suffers from an ending that’s so sudden I couldn’t help wondering if the editor had to chop it for brevity. Not bad enough to be infamous, not good enough to produce tears, it simply and quickly stops dead.
Megan Frampton, as I said before, continues to puzzle and frustrate me. Maybe someday she’ll get closer to an A grade, but Tall, Duke and Dangerous is not the book that will get her there.