The Mad, Bad Duke
I’ve been having a bit of unlucky streak over the last few months when it comes to new-to-me authors others seem to love. I couldn’t be happier to report that Jennifer Ashley seems to have broken it.
In some ways hard to define, The Mad, Bad Duke felt a little like an old-fashioned romance. Hero Alexander, Grand Duke of Nvengaria, truly did feel like a man of his time and his station unlike, it must be noted, a lot of those generic “noblemen” moonlighting as spies or crime fighters who populate so many romance novels these days. But Alexander isn’t just any royal, no matter how realistic his character may seem. The Ambassador to England for his small country is also coming to terms with his previously unknown heritage as a sort of shape-shifter known as a logosh.
Though I didn’t read Penenlope and Prince Charming, the previous book in this series, it’s clear that Alex figured as something of a villain in that story. With matters all patched up now amongst the royals and with Alex proudly serving his prince and his country, Alex is surprised to find himself captivated by heroine Meagan Tavistock, a friend of the woman who is now his country’s English-born princess. Alex and Meagan, as both are soon brought to realize, are caught in a love spell, leaving the two unable – literally – to keep their hands off one another.
When Meagan is compromised – something that Grand Dukes just don’t do – Alex insists on marrying the English commoner. Meagan, quite understandably for a sensible young woman, doesn’t object too strenuously to being swept off her feet by a devastatingly handsome and sexy man with whom she’s been sharing some deliciously erotic dreams. (Smart girl!)
Soon enough, however, it is evident that complex Nvengarian political matters have put both Alex and Meagan in danger. Further complicating the situation between the newlyweds is Alex’s reluctant acknowledgement of the beast within him, a beast he fears might harm his beloved wife while in the grip of the uncontrollable love spell binding them both.
What I liked here was the “bigness” of the story. Alex truly is a hero in the grand sense; he is a man who prides himself on his self-control and who is accustomed to wielding power effortlessly, only to find himself helpless in the grip of the powerful feelings he has for his wife. Meagan, it has to be admitted, is a bit of a Mary Sue and I’m hard-pressed to remember much about her just one day after finishing the book, but, nevertheless, she doesn’t get too much in the way of Alex, who is, undeniably, the big attraction here.
The paranormal aspects of the story work nicely, as well. The author doesn’t get especially burdensome with her world-building (am I the only one starting to veg out on a lot of this stuff?) and keeps her story focused on her characters instead of assaulting the reader with paragraph after paragraph of made-up words. (And, yep, that’s exactly how it seems to me sometimes.)
So why a B since I enjoyed the book so much? Though fear of spoilers prevent my going into detail, The Mad, Bad Duke does suffer from Saggy Middle Syndrome. One of the major conflicts between Alex and Meagan felt more than a bit contrived and, as a result, my attention wandered after too many pages devoted to Alex’s relentless self-flagellation. Enough already, Big Guy!
However, Saggy Middle aside, happily enough for me, I come to the end of my 2006 reading year with a new author to glom. And considering that I only managed two DIKs this year, that is something to celebrate.