The Taming of the Duke
The Taming of the Duke is a novel full of promise and intriguing main characters, but ultimately spoiled by too many ingredients. Too many side characters and subplots compete with each other for attention. Moreover, the transitions by which chapters shuffled from one subplot to another was far too jarring, destroying the momentum created as relationships developed between characters.
Imogen is a widow of Draven Maitland, a man whom she managed to spirit away from his fiancé (who thankfully really didn’t want him very much), and who promptly died several weeks after their marriage in a horse riding accident. She is formerly a ward of Rafe, the Duke of Holbrook, who still has guardianship of her younger sister and tries, to the best of his ability, to look after Imogen as well.
Imogen still has lingering doubts that Draven ever truly loved her, or was even really interested in her, and thus has insecurities at odds with her outward beauty and confidence. She’s already failed once at having an affair that would let her put her insecurities over her desirability at rest. But she is now very interested in Rafe’s illegitimate brother Gabriel, an academic who has Rafe’s handsome looks but not his dissolute lifestyle. Rafe, who as second son never thought he’d come into the title, is a confirmed alcoholic – and he has the gut to prove it. In Imogen’s mind, Gabe is the perfect person to have an affair with. Rafe, of course, disagrees.
I truly liked Rafe; his banter with Imogen was refreshing and sharp, as Imogen made no bones about what she thought of his drinking. When Rafe decides to turn over a new leaf, she takes drastic action to remove temptation from him, but sympathetically refrains from drinking at public dinners so he won’t feel alone. They had strong chemistry together, and I liked how Rafe was protective and inwardly possessive of Imogen, even while she was dismissing him. Their story becomes even more intriguing when Gabriel, who is not receptive to Imogen’s affections, asks Rafe to take his place for a secret midnight meeting…
There is also a subplot between Gabe and the woman he secretly admires (Gillian Pythian-Adams, ironically the woman whose fiancé Imogen stole), which I liked. Gabe is enigmatic and intriguing, and Gillian is a calmer, more collected foil to the headstrong Imogen. Gillian pursues Rafe at one point, making this a four-way love quadrilateral. However, their relationship, as enjoyable as it is, also has an annoying habit of interrupting the flow of Rafe and Imogen’s story.
The automatic shuffling of subplots from chapter to chapter was frustrating and at times headache-inducing. One chapter even ends in the middle of a love scene, while the next chapter goes back to another subplot and other side characters, and then the next chapter returns to the love scene. Every time I enjoyed a scene with Imogen and Rafe and looked forward to seeing how their relationship would escalate, I was disappointed, because their relationship is basically suspended while we then visit with countless other characters (including two of Imogen’s sisters and an actress with a prior connection to Gabe – this latter secondary character is part of a subplot involving a play – etc.). Multiple subplots are not always a problem; the book simply lacked flow and seemed overwhelmed by characters.
Finally, most disappointingly, the ending felt extremely rushed and the secret identity issue was resolved in a way that I thought was very unsatisfying and problematic. I thought Rafe and Imogen deserved more, as their story for the majority of the book had held my interest. In the end, the incessant juggling of other characters and plots made this book more difficult to read than it should have been, and the ending didn’t make up for it. I thought the book had the potential to be more, but in the end it didn’t quite get there.