The Duke Effect
The Duke Effect – the latest romance from Sophie Jordan – follows Nora Langley, a young woman impersonating her deceased father – a medical man – in correspondence, and Constantine Sinclair, who uncovers her ruse. Nora lives with her older sister, and her husband, a black sheep of a duke. Constantine is serving in the army overseas, the distant heir to a dukedom. Their love story is certainly charming, but there is little to appeal to the discerning reader beyond the steamy scenes.
In the five years since Nora’s father died, she has taken over his duties as the local physician, dispensing medical advice in their small town. She also, instead of publicising her father’s demise, sends her advice (using his name) to his many acquaintances. Unlike her besotted sisters, Nora has no desire to settle down and marry; she does not begrudge them their domestic bliss, but she has found herself immune to the charms of men, at least so far. She even communicates with an army colonel abroad, one Constantine Sinclair, who consults with her under the impression he’s corresponding with Dr. Langley, not Ms. Nora Langley.
Constantine is forced to leave his career in the army behind when he unexpectedly becomes heir to the Duke of Birchwood. Though he finds it an unwelcome obligation, Constantine does his duty, returning to England in order to marry and sire an heir. Upon his return, Constantine seeks out Dr. Langley for a remedy, only to discover Nora’s deception. Nora promises to help Constantine with his aunt’s mysterious ailment on her honor as a healer. They are instantly attracted to each other, but both know that any relationship would be impossible. No matter how good-looking Constantine is, Nora knows that he is too honorable to engage in only an affair with her; and despite his attraction to Nora, Constantine has a duty to marry well, and an eccentric herbalist doesn’t fit the bill.
It’s a bit hard to understand why Nora doesn’t strike out on her own, rather than living with her sister and brother-in-law; given her skills and training, finding work as a midwife would, surely, have been easy enough. Nora is an agreeable person, independent, open-minded and generally likable. Her characterization is pretty consistent, although she occasionally comes across as fairly naive, especially for a character who has a lot of opinions, and presumably years of medical knowledge gained under her father’s tutelage.
Constantine is also very likable, an honorable and single-minded individual. When he becomes the heir to a ducal title, he immediately begins to try to shape himself into the ideal duke, following the instructions of his distant relative, the current duke, and his wife. Raised by the couple, but having experienced little affection, Constantine feels obligated to meet their expectations, marry the lady they choose, and live the life they prescribe for him. He has to decide if duty comes before happiness, and what a life he chooses for himself might look like.
While Constantine’s character isn’t explored as deeply, he and Nora have excellent chemistry. The obstacles to their union are considerable, and frankly, while their story is enjoyable, those obstacles aren’t dealt with very ably. Their communication is sporadic at best, and most of the attraction between them seems to stem from his interest in Nora’s unconventional way of thinking, and her admiration for his honor and kindness. They do not seem to have a great deal in common, or exchange more than a couple of sentences throughout the text. They share a lot of sexual chemistry, but there is one problematic moment when consent is definitely questionable between them.
The Duke Effect was an enjoyable read, and is very sexually charged, but not something I’d reread. I found Nora’s turnaround from confirmed spinsterhood a little too abrupt, and though I enjoyed her as a protagonist, I think the story would have been stronger with a little extra backstory on both of the main characters. Admittedly, I haven’t read the previous books in the series, which might have further information about Nora. The ending is certainly a plausible happily ever after, but it felt a little unearned, and might seem abrupt to some readers.