The Duke's Holiday
I’ve seen a number of enthusiastic reviews around from people who share similar tastes to mine for this book, so I thought it was likely that I would enjoy The Duke’s Holiday, too. It just shows that there is no accounting for taste sometimes, because I was very, very disappointed. It’s a fairly simple story – a very proper, highly fastidious duke with what the synopsis indicates is Obsessive (or is it Obsessional?) Compulsive Disorder meets his match in the form of a feisty, flame-haired mess of a women who thrives on chaos. Unfortunately, however, there were a number of things about it that just didn’t work for me – mostly the heroine – and to be honest, I didn’t find it all that funny.
The Duke of Montford – handsome, powerful and wealthy – has to travel to one of his properties in Yorkshire after he receives news that all is not as it should be. Travelling makes him ill – but circumstances conspire to force him to go himself, and when he arrives, his worst fears are confirmed. The house is in a poor state of repair, the staff seem to be laws unto themselves and the person “in charge” – Miss Astrid Honeywell – is a nightmare of a woman with mismatched eyes, wild red hair, and opinions of her own who strides around the estate wearing breeches. Her immediate reaction to the duke’s arrival (after a bit of ogling at how gorgeous he is, naturally!) is to want to get rid of him by any means necessary – which involves rudeness, humiliation and general unpleasantness. While she’s going to these great lengths to get rid of him, she can’t help but become aware that the duke is far more intelligent and canny than she’d given him credit for, because he thwarts her at every turn. And through it all, the pair fights a reluctant attraction to each other, which, to her credit, the author handles well, because there’s a nice sizzle of sexual tension between Montford and Astrid.
My big problem with the book, however, is with the characterisation and actions of the heroine. She’s not very likeable and is difficult to warm to, for all she’s supposed to be endearingly eccentric and loveable. There’s some sort of centuries old feud running between the Honeywells and the Montfords which I didn’t quite understand, but whatever it is, Astrid is adamant that as the Honeywells have lived at Rylestone for the last two hundred years, that they have a right to remain there regardless of the fact that it’s owned by someone else. The Duke of Montford, in fact. Astrid is frequently described as being very intelligent – but I never saw her behaving in any way as to make me believe it. She is disturbingly oblivious to the fact that the duke has the law completely on his side and no matter of moral right or obligation gives her the right to behave in the way she does.
If she’d been as intelligent as the author claims, Astrid would have tried to charm Montford and work out a compromise – which is when she would have discovered that he actually has no intention of throwing her and her family out of their home. After all, he’s got 27 (or is it 37?) houses in England alone, so he is perfectly able to continue to let this one out; but he quite naturally wants to make sure that it is being properly run and cared for. And clearly, it isn’t.
Even when others try to tell Astrid that her behavior isn’t doing them any good, and is probably having the opposite effect, she acts instead like a petulant child who refuses to listen or to allow that anyone else could be right and she could be wrong.
Montford is a little easier to like, although he’s never fully rounded out as a character. Most of the time, I was sympathising with him and rooting for him to get one over on Astrid. I get that the idea was to take the most proper and aloof aristocrat in the history of historical romance and take swipes at him so that bit by bit, he becomes human like the rest of us, but the method of doing so just doesn’t work for me. Astrid treats him as a pariah from the get-go, and while he certainly is a bit of a stuffed shirt who needs to loosen up a bit, being unreasonably hostile and downright unpleasant isn’t the way to go about it. And if Montford really does have a form of OCD, flinging him into constant contact with someone as chaotic as Astrid doesn’t seem to me to be the way to devise useful coping mechanisms!
This is Ms Fenton’s first foray into historical romance (although she writes another genre under another name). The Duke’s Holiday would have benefited from some judicious editing and proof-reading. There is a lot of repetition within scenes which disrupts the pacing and delays the story progression, so there is a lot of pruning and tightening up needed. There are a number of typos and errors, the most obvious of which is the mention of a character wearing a crinoline in the Regency period. Also, Ms Fenton’s grasp of the conventions of the period is a little tenuous, the language and overall style is rather too modern and the love scenes are rather disappointing.