He is known only as The Rook. A man with no name, no past, no memories. He awakens in a mass grave, a magnificent dragon tattoo on his muscled forearm the sole clue to his mysterious origins. His only hope for survival—and salvation—lies in the deep, fiery eyes of the beautiful stranger who finds him. Who nurses him back to health. And who calms the restless demons in his soul…
A LEGENDARY LOVE
Lorelai will never forget the night she rescued the broken dark angel in the woods, a devilishly handsome man who haunts her dreams to this day. Crippled as a child, she devoted herself to healing the poor tortured man. And when he left, he took a piece of her heart with him. Now, after all these years, The Rook has returned. Like a phantom, he sweeps back into her life and avenges those who wronged her. But can she trust a man who’s been branded a rebel, a thief, and a killer? And can she trust herself to resist him when he takes her in his arms?
AAR staffers Em Wittmann, Hollis Jade and Caz Owens read this sixth book in Kerrigan Byrne’s Victorian Rebels series and sadly, none of them was particularly impressed. Here are their thoughts on The Duke With the Dragon Tattoo.
EW: Before I say anything else about this book I have to ask – Did you guess who The Rook was before you started it? Were you right?
HJ: I did and I was!
CO: Honestly? I hadn’t thought about it since I finished the last book!
So, ladies – what are your general impressions of The Duke With the Dragon Tattoo?
HJ: The beginning chapters definitely hooked me; I liked the innocence and the healing we experience in the wake of the Rook’s unexpected rescue, and that Lorelai ends up with someone sympathetic on her side. But. After that point I feel like the author tried too hard to give us another Dorian and Farah and it just didn’t work. The emotional connection wasn’t there, I never grew to like Lorelai as a character at all, and for all the adventure and experiences that we hear about (eventually) from the Rook’s life post-Lorelai, I just… didn’t feel anything.
CO: You just said: “for all the adventure and experiences that we HEAR about” – and I’m nodding, because yes, there’s a lot of telling and not showing. The opening chapters are great – KB does a fine job in building a relationship between Ash and Lorelai, on conveying that first flush of young love, but after that, the whole thing just fizzles out and there’s not much plot until we get to the last few chapters and the Big Reunion. (Which, IMO, is the best thing in the book). And the attempt to inject some last-minute tension is horribly contrived.
EW: The author had me at hello, and then, not long after Ash winds up with Lorelai and her family, she lost me. I’ve liked all of the heroines in the Victorian Rebels books, but I simply didn’t connect with this one. Lorelai, victimized by her family, finds happiness in her love and care of the animals on the estate; her relationship with Ash felt like more of the same; he’s another “patient,” and I struggled to believe in Lorelai’s transition from caretaker to secretly lustful nurse. And on the flip side, Ash yearned for kindness and succor from his demons… but do I believe that translated into barely controlled desire? Then when they meet as adults, they’re surprised by the changes that time has wrought on the both of them. Really? Did they ever really know each other in the first place? Much like The Duke, Ms. Byrne simply skips developing the principal relationship. We go from improbable meet-up to straight up lust, time apart and then surprise when the person doesn’t turn out to be quite whom they expected. Well, duh. You don’t know each other. Pro tip: having sex probably isn’t going to help things (but will probably keep Em reading).
CO: *sniggers* I never got much of a sense of who either of them were. Lorelai collects wounded animals, Ash/the Rook has become a badass pirate and has nursed a grudge for twenty years, but once he’s dispensed with the object of that grudge it’s like his reason for existence is dispensed with, too. I almost always find the “we’ve-not-seen-each-other-for-a-gazillion-years-but-I’ve-loved-you-all-that-time” premise to be a difficult one to swallow, but it CAN work if the author is able to show the couple reconnecting and falling in love with the people they are NOW. That doesn’t happen here. As you say, the “romance” (and I use the term loosely) is based on lust – and even that is hard to believe.
HJ: It just felt so rushed! It seemed more like a bridging story or novella to set up the next book and/or wrap up something from the previous one. I think too much time was spent on the second pairing hovering in the background that took away critical time that could’ve been spent forging a believable adult emotional connection between the Rook and Lorelai.
EW: Caz, I’m so surprised to hear you liked the reunion scene! I loved having all those great characters together, but it’s so contrary to the anti-social personae she’s cultivated with each of her early heroes. And now they’re besties? MS. BYRNE: STOP REINVENTING DORIAN. He’s an anti-social dick with a heart of gold when it comes to his wife. FULL STOP.
CO: I think she’s trying to get across that Dorian is mellowing (a bit) with marriage and someone to ground him, but you make a good point. That said, I still liked that scene, but then Dorian is my favourite hero of the lot, so I’m always ready to see him again ;)
HJ: I was definitely willing to let Dorian have his moment in that particular situation. I think so much of why he’s antisocial could be a holdover of his guilt for what happened all those years ago, even though it wasn’t his fault, and I agree with Caz that a few years of love and happiness might have gone a way towards letting go of some of it. Had it been anyone but the Rook to inspire that kind of warm fuzzy in Dorian, though, knowing what we know of him, I agree that it would have been totally out of character for him.
CO: Yes, exactly. Given who the Rook is, it works.
HJ: But with that said, even though that reunion scene lasts, what, a chapter? I felt that every other player stood out more than either of our main protagonists. For all that the Rook is supposed to be this fearsome, shark-like presence, instead he comes across as a blank. And after all Lorelai endured at her brother’s hands, and as a result of her father’s negligence, she has no strong feelings about either? I’m sorry, I’m all for forgiving personalities but there should be something of a limit. I just wanted her to feel something. To do something other than faint or cry or argue about a name or be caught up in some lustful spell. Unfortunately I really don’t feel like either persona had much dimension and instead were simply stuck in the shadow of characters that came before.
CO: As kids, ‘Ash’ and Lorelai were great, but as adults, they’re bland and inconsistent, and their romance (such as it is) is a pale imitation of that in The Highwayman (which is still the best in the series, IMO).
EW: I totally agree. Lorelai is boring at the beginning and at the end, (CO – And in the middle!) while Ash morphs from hot, sexy and tormented to hot, sexy, tormented and tatted up. I didn’t buy them as a couple when they initially met, and I had a hard time believing in their long term prospects.
Going back to what I said at the beginning, I read the series having no idea (or even a guess) who The Rook was. Then, after a re-read in advance of The Duke with the Dragon Tattoo, I thought I knew who he was – I was right by the way – and I felt dumb that it hadn’t occurred to me before. The author definitely drops hints, so I can’t decide if she wanted readers to guess or meant for it to be a mystery.
HJ: Same, Em, same. And I think maybe it was a bit of both? Reading them as they were released, I definitely didn’t piece it together, but going back for my own reread made it pretty easy to guess – and guess correctly. I think, had I not prepped with revisiting the previous books, I would’ve loved the big reveal and seen it all in hindsight. But having done so, I loved being proved right, too. Hopefully readers will find satisfaction no matter which camp they fall into.
CO: I haven’t done a re-read, so I can’t remember, but it’s pretty obvious within the first few pages if you’ve read the other books. But frankly, I don’t know if there was meant to be any mystery about it, or if it was even planned. I have long suspected that the Victorian Rebels series was originally meant to be a trilogy and that the author was asked for more after the first book or two were so successful (NOTE – this is MY opinion, and I may well be wrong) – so my view is that it wasn’t planned. I mean, KB has to do a bit of a Conan Doyle and resurrect someone she killed off right at the beginning of the series, so…
EW: Much like the books that precede this one, my favorite parts of Ms. Kerrigan’s books (well, apart from the HOT and steamy sex scenes) are the opening chapters. She sucks me in every time! TDWTDT, like its predecessors (well, not The Duke – but that’s an outlier), opens with a harrowing scene as we discover who The Rook is – and how he’s related to the other characters in the series. Damn, he had a rough start in life.
HJ: Agreed, I think the introductions of almost all the books in the Victorian Rebels series have been outstanding. Not a nice kind of outstanding, of course, but completely engaging and engrossing. One of them (The Hunter) even made me cry. But The Rook’s rebirth, as it were, was pretty terrible. Strangely, though, I wanted more. I wanted to live out some of that terror, of waking up in that grave, and clawing his way out. As we well know, this author has never shied away from that kind of dark and grit and horror in regards to what her tortured antiheroes endure, and I suppose I just expected to see that play out here. And I think ultimately that applies to this book in general : I wanted more.
CO: I agree that it was glossed over; Ms. Byrne hasn’t shied away from showing some pretty horrible stuff in the other books, but here, when the relevant lines occurred I was like – “is that it?”.
Em, you’ve mentioned the sex scenes so I’m going to pick that up and say that I found them to be walking the wrong side of the hot/funny line much of the time. Ms. Byrne’s prose has always been somewhat purple-tinged, but now she’s passed the lavender spectrum and is heading towards violet. I mean – stuff like this? She released a rush of wet need on a tortured moan. Makes me want to giggle (rather than, you know, release my own rush of wet need! – TMI?!)
EW: Caz! O.M.G. I LOVE Ms. Byrne’s sexy scenes. I want to say I don’t mind the purplish prose – but that’s a pretty bad example. My issue this time out has everything to do with chemistry – in this case, the lack thereof, and less about the lovemaking. I was okay with it!
CO: Yeah, but there are lots of examples – not all of them in the sex scenes – that were just too eye-roll-inducing. I agree about the lack of chemistry, though.
HJ: I’ve noticed that I’m particularly sensitive to the purple love prose when I’m not feeling the characters. If I’m in it, if I’m feeling it, I don’t mind. It becomes part of the experience and I float away on all the feels. But if I’m struggling with believability and connection or just not buying it full-stop, then, yeah, wet need just ends up feeling a little much and I want to avert my eyes.
CO: Much as it pains me to say it, I think the Victorian Rebels series may have passed its sell-by date and it’s time to wrap it up. Being perfectly honest, I’m only continuing with it for two reasons – one, I’m waiting for Morley’s book and two, I usually listen to the audiobook version because the narrator is excellent and helps to paper over the cracks in the story. Unless the next book is Morley’s (and I suspect, given a line near the end of this one, that it’s not), I’ll be passing on it. This one scrapes a C+ from me – had the book continued in the same vein as the first quarter, it’d have got a solid B (or higher), but given that it didn’t…
HJ: Despite how much I loved the first three books, I can’t seem to rate this one higher than a D+. This series has been dark and emotionally gripping but The Duke With the Dragon Tattoo feels too much like book one but without as much darkness and completely missing that emotional connection. While I don’t necessarily want to see the series end, I feel like we’ve already seen the best parts of it. Like Caz, I am holding out major hope for a Morley-centric instalment.
EW: This one is a miss for me too, so I’m going with a C+ as well. But I will be back for the next book. The Victorian Rebels are some of my favorite romantic heroes, and I’m hopeful there’s another Dorian or Argent waiting to be discovered!
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