While the Duke Was Sleeping
AAR staffers Emily Wittmann and Sara Elliott were excited to discuss and share their thoughts on Sophie Jordan’s While the Duke Was Sleeping, the first in her new Rogue Files series. If you’ve read it, then we’d love to know what you thought of the book, too!
Poppy Fairchurch is in love with the Duke of Autenberry. As a shop girl at the florist he favors, she’s barely exchanged more than a few words with him, but it doesn’t stop her from daydreaming about the day he will suddenly realize Poppy is the girl of his dreams and makes her his duchess. After one visit, Poppy watches the duke exit the shop and get into an argument with another man that quickly escalates into a battle of fisticuffs. Poppy tries to stop the fight, but instead saves the duke’s life when she pulls him out of the way of a horse and carriage. The duke falls into a coma after the fall, and when she returns with him to his home, she’s mistaken for his fiancée.
The man he was fighting, and who accompanied Poppy to the duke’s home (and pushed her to safety from the carriage), isn’t so sure Poppy is anything more than the Duke of Autenberry’s latest paramour. Struan Mackenzie is the Duke of Autenberry’s wealthy, handsome and illegitimate half-brother. His relationship with the duke is strained at best, but based on what he knows about the duke’s rakish tendencies, he’s convinced the duke’s brave and fiery defender can’t be his betrothed. Determined to learn more about the duke’s savior, Struan instead finds himself falling in love with her.
As While the Duke Was Sleeping unfolds, Poppy learns that sometimes the man of your dreams isn’t the one you expect him to be.
EBW: This is the first book I’ve read by Ms. Jordan, but I don’t think it will be my last. I was curious about the story after I heard it was loosely based on the movie While You Were Sleeping. I only vaguely remember the movie, but after reading the book, I recognize some of the similarities. Have you seen the movie? And what did you think of the book?
SAE: You’re very lucky that your recollections of the original film aren’t particularly strong. While You Were Sleeping is actually one of my all-time favorite movies, so characters, scenes and even dialog are things I have memorized. I was quite excited when I originally read the story description and how it mirrored the film so closely, but once I started reading I realized all the similarities may have backfired on the author. I couldn’t help but compare the way the book unfolds with what took place on screen. Elements that I loved from the movie have been changed or eliminated in such a way as to take away from what should have been a sweet love story. Judging the book on its own merits, I didn’t enjoy it as much as you did.
Poppy Fairchurch is a fairly good interpretation of Sandra Bullock’s character from the film; however, the first major misstep in the book is the characterization of the hero, Struan Mackenzie. He’s too aggressive for my tastes and his pursuit of Poppy lacks a lot of the chemistry that I’d hoped to see. He initially sees Poppy as an enigma he needs to solve, but that quickly changes to his seeing her as something good that he wants to possess for himself. It never felt like love to me but seemed much more of a power/lust kind of emotion. I was also confused about his motivations for being so suspicious of Poppy at the beginning. In the film, the hero is wary of the heroine because he wants to protect his brother while he is incapacitated and also keep his family from being needlessly hurt. In the book, Struan is already an outsider to the duke’s family so his interrogations of Poppy are out of place. What did you think about Struan and Poppy’s relationship? Did you feel any chemistry between them?
EBW: I’m glad I don’t remember the film very well, because I loved Struan! He was actually my favorite character in the story – I love a dark, brooding villain/hero, and he totally fit the bill. I thought his fiery temperament was a good match for Poppy – mostly because Poppy needed someone to shock her out of her imagined relationship with the duke, and Struan’s relentless pursuit of her accomplished that. I also liked how deeply she affected him and threw him off his own game.
My problem with the story and his character is that he becomes a very different person towards the end of the book. When we first meet him, he is in a fight, defending himself after the duke punches him. He pursues Poppy even after she rebuffs him time and time again. We learn he’s overcome a difficult childhood and many other adversities, so he didn’t strike me as a quitter. It didn’t, therefore, make sense to me that he would simply give up trying to win Poppy’s heart after the duke awakened. Struan doesn’t make any attempt to fight for her which was really disappointing.
SAE: I struggled with that, as well. I suspect it may have been the author’s way of showing that Struan had learned to appreciate Poppy as well as this new family that had welcomed him and he didn’t want to hurt any of them. Going back to my comparisons with the film – on screen, the hero makes the final move to be with the heroine as it shows that he forgave her for her lies and accepted her for who she really was. On the page there’s still a little ambiguity about who should be forgiving whom and who should really be pursuing the other to get that happy ending.
What did you think of some of the secondary characters in the book? Part of the magic of the film is the hero’s family and how they welcome the heroine into their midst. This was actually something Ms. Jordan got spot on with the dowager Duchess of Autenberry and Struan’s two half-sisters Enid and Clara. Unfortunately the one person who needed some kind of personality was the Duke himself. When he woke up he was still as much of a blank slate as when he was knocked unconscious.
EBW: I don’t recollect the family in the movie, but I thought the Dowager, Enid and Clara were slightly ridiculous. Are we supposed to believe that all this time they knew Struan was in London, but they never reached out or welcomed him until he was partly responsible for putting Autenberry in a coma? And that with little more than the word of a housekeeper, they believe that Poppy is the duke’s fiancée? Based on Autenberry’s reputation as a rake with a discerning eye for the more voluptuous ladies of the ton, it just doesn’t make any sense that he would fall for a self-described plain and poor shop girl, and that his relatives would accept that without any corroboration whatsoever. No wonder the duke was worried about Struan trying to take advantage of the family! God knows what might have happened had Poppy actually been trying to con them!
Did it bother you that we didn’t really get to know the Duke of Autenberry? Everything we know about him is either imagined by Poppy or based on her opinion of his behavior. I still haven’t decided whether he was the hero or the villain in this story – or if I even liked him (again, I’m guessing he’s due for his own book). What did you think?
SAE: Autenberry is probably the most under-developed character in the whole piece, which is a shame because he does play his part in events. I get the feeling that the duke’s personality might have ended up on the editor’s floor or is being held in reserve for his own book later.
EBW: I think you might be right about that.
SAE: The film’s “Coma-Guy” was developed by the heroine’s interactions with his friends and the family. Poppy’s attention is taken up by Struan to ramp up the romantic tension so we don’t get those side character moments in which she learns about the duke. Going back to my point about Struan being an outsider, he, too, doesn’t have a clear picture of who Autenberry is so readers only know the negative aspects Struan believes about him – that he’s petulant and advantaged – which colors how he’s seen after he wakes up. The reader never feels that angst of a brother believing he’s betraying his sibling by falling in love with the same woman.
Ms. Jordan’s choice to stick rather closely to the source material in her adaptation was a double-edged sword. People knew what to expect from the story but they could also be disappointed (as I was) when things deviated or didn’t match with those expectations. Poppy and Struan never “fit” together as well as the film’s protagonists did, so there was no magic moment where I knew they were in love. It either flew right by me or was too understated for me to feel it. My final rating for the book is a C+; however I’m still going to look out for the next in the series.
EBW: I enjoyed While the Duke was Sleeping and though I wish some of the more significant characters (the Duke of Autenberry, Lord Tucker) were better developed, and others were less annoying (Bryony) it’s a solid B for me. I’m curious to see if Ms. Jordan is basing the future books in the series on romantic comedies – though I’m on the fence about whether this is a good idea or not, as in doing so, she sets herself up for criticism regardless of how well she writes her story. If the writing is strong it probably doesn’t matter, so I’m keeping my fingers crossed that whatever she has in store for us next pleases fans of her books and the movies she picks.