The Dark Duke
After noticing that author Margaret Moore had published several books in the past few years, and that none written for Harlequin Historicals had received above a rating of 3 from a leading romance publication, I became curious. Surely there must be something to her books, else why would she still be cranking them out? More to the point, why would she still be published? Margaret Moore’s latest release, The Dark Duke, has a title reminiscent of a traditional Regency. It is set, however, in the mid-1800’s, and is published by Harlequin Historicals, which is no longer a Regency publisher. However, again, this story read to me much like a Regency romance in terms of the story-line, the character types, and the importance of manners, roles, and the like.
As a reader, the few Regency romances I’ve read have left me thinking that I would have preferred them to be historicals, more relaxed, and more sensual. Since The Dark Duke wasn’t really a Regency romance, could it fit the bill for me and be a good semi-historical, semi-Regency romance?
Sort of. . . but sort of. . . not. Because it is not a Regency romance, the importance of roles and manners was relaxed. The story-line was minimal, which can work if the characterizations are particularly strong. In this case, the hero and heroine were fairly well-drawn, but the other characters were not. When characterizations are weak, action can be a partial substitute. In this case, the book’s Regency flavor greatly limited the action.
So we are left with a very spare story-line, some well-drawn characters, some stereotypical characters, and a couple of interesting plot twists. Nothing great, but nothing horrible either. Basically a quick read; a book to read in-between other possibly lengthy or intense books.
The Dark Duke is Adrian Fitzwalter, the Duke of Barroughby, notorious for his debauchery. He comes to his family’s country seat nursing a injury rumored to be the result of his scandalous ways. He is met by his step-mother, who despises him, and her companion, Lady Hester.
Lady Hester is different from any other woman Adrian has met. While she is plain of face, her spirit, her intelligence, and her lack of womanly wiles, guile, and jealousies, speak to his heart and mind. While Adrian is drawn to Hester, he must guard his actions carefully because of his step-brother Elliot’s predilection for coveting whatever Adrian has.
Elliot, you see, is the apple of his mama’s eye. The twist here is that the Dark Duke is not so dark after all – he’s been covering for Elliot’s notorious activities for years, and assuming the blame himself.
It doesn’t take Hester long to determine which sibling is worthy, but Adrian’s cautiousness to protect Hester adds some needed intrigue. It is to the author’s credit that there is no big misunderstanding at this point, just small steps taken and truths slowly revealed. The cautious Lady Hester eventually acts out of character, allowing Adrian to reveal his true feelings. This is a joyous yet restrained moment.
Adrian and Hester behave as adults in this book; their restrained manners rang true, albeit unusual in the genre. The secondary characters, unfortunately, are just too pat and most things wrapped up for them too neatly. There is no nuance in the writing of Adrian’s step-mother and half-brother, although Elliot’s true colors are revealed in some delightfully disgusting ways.
The Dark Duke was somewhat better than expected; Lady Hester and the Duke were fairly interesting, and I was pleased they found each other. The Regency feel (at least to me, a non-Regency reader) of this book was okay, although the lack of any intimacy beyond kissing lessened my enjoyment.
Odd as it sounds, I would consider another of this author’s books. Again, read in-between two more weighty stories, a book such as this can provide a nice afternoon’s diversion.