To Marry the Duke
While To Marry the Duke was a reasonably enjoyable read and author Julianne MacLean took a slightly different than usual situation and turned it even more on its head, overall the book was not compelling and some of its characters and situations were far too familiar. It was fun, but also forgettable.
Sophia Wilson is the first of three sisters (smell a series here?) to arrive from America to make their London debut. Beautiful, headstrong, wealthy and outspoken, Sophia is a classic American, full of all the hubris of our countrywomen. While she is willing to entertain the idea of marrying into the British aristocracy, she is holding out for love and romance, and because she is so forceful, she gets it.
As soon as Sophia sees James Langdon, the Duke of Wentworth, she feels all kinds of squirmy inside and wants to know him in many intimate ways. (She’s no shrinking violet.) For his part, James has no intention of getting married, but, well, the estates could use a substantial infusion of cash, and this American has a way of looking at him that makes him all squirmy and gooey inside, so he decides to propose.
So where is the conflict, that unspooling set of circumstances that force the hero and heroine to misunderstand each other’s motives and actions? The first one is the duke himself. James has spent his whole life tamping down what he views as vile passions, namely the excessive nature that has gotten every single one of his forbears into trouble. He convinces himself he is marrying Sophia just for the money, just as he is convinced she is marrying him just for the title. Wrong! Sophia believes he loves her, as she does him, and is quickly disabused of that notion. She is not deterred, however, which is where the originality of the plot comes into play.
Instead of giving up or treating her new husband to some cold nights, Sophia philosophically decides to work through the various crises facing her without running home to her father, something she has done all too often in the past. She does not punish her husband by withholding sex, or getting into pointless arguments about her situation. Her brash, American style breaks through barriers no frosty English person could, and her determination to succeed is laudable.
Unfortunately, at the same time Sophia exorcises her demons, the author trots out some old familiar devils with which to plague us. The first is the duke’s reason for remaining stoic in the face of all kinds of passion. Perhaps if there was a more original motivation his behavior would not have seemed so usual, but there have been many plots that hinge on the “family is nothing but bad seeds” belief. He was interesting, but honestly it was not always easy to understand why Sophia was so enamored of him. The second is a subplot involving the duke’s sister, which is obviously just another chance for Sophia to prove she is of sterling character. The third is Sophia’s strained relationship with her mother-in-law, which is resolved all too quickly. The fourth is, frankly, that Sophia is almost too good to be true: sexy, honest, insightful, considerate, beautiful, wealthy. That she was likable at all is a testament to MacLean’s writing ability.
Despite the above caveats, the dialogue is excellent, and Sophia’s passionate nature is a refreshing change from all those shy, virginal types (that is not a spoiler, just an adjective!). If she can manage to make her characters a bit less perfect, MacLean might write something that stands out from the crowd. I will make it a point to read the next book in the series, since Sophia’s sisters are sure to be boarding a boat bound for London soon.