Yes, I’m one of those romance readers who fits the cliché: Just give me a box of bon bons and a shirtless duke in a cape and I’m all set.
Okay, so I’m not quite that clichéd. Bon bons have w-a-a-a-a-y too many carbs and just slapping the title on any wallpaper character doesn’t cut it.
I like dukes when authors make me actually believe they are dukes.
A sterling example is Mary Balogh in Slightly Dangerous. Much of the book is told from Wulfric’s POV and the reader knows that every fiber of his being is consumed by the responsibilities of his rank to his family, his tenants, and his servants. The life and livelihood of hundreds – and maybe even thousands – depend on him and he never forgets it even for one moment.
Is he burdened by the weight? Yes, undeniably. Would he change his lot in life? Not really. Wulfric knows and accepts that he has a role to play in life and he will do nothing but his utmost to meet the challenge each and every day, no matter what the cost may be in personal sacrifice.
That makes it even more moving when Wulfric finds himself succumbing to the charms of a woman who is, by the standards of his world, a wildly inappropriate match for him. Love fells the mighty duke and, at the hands of one of the most skilled romance authors of all time, readers feel it.
That to me, fellow readers, is romance.
And then there is Judith McNaught in the much-maligned (and deservedly so), but also much-loved Whitney, My Love. I read this book w-a-a-a-a-y back in the day when it was originally published and I remember thinking excitedly, “wow, it’s a big Regency with sex!” And that it was. (I’ve heard Ms. McNaught says she invented the Regency Historical. I think she’s right.)
Despite all its flaws – the rape, and the twit of an “I hate you” heroine who was named…ahem…Whitney being the most egregious – the book caused my heart to turn over more than once when I was reading it for the very first time.
The reason I will always have a soft spot for that book lies in McNaught’s Duke of Claymore. The duke is implacable in his power and privilege and he doesn’t hesitate to use all the resources at his considerable command to get what he wants. And to put it simply, when a man like that is humbled by love, I am toast.
So, considering the current proliferation of duke books, you’d think I’d be wallowing in the bounty, right? Nope. Far from it. Because for me simply slapping the title of “duke” on a character who then proceeds to behave like a 21st century frat boy adds up to a big, fat fail.
Bottom line? I love my duke books – always have, always will. But only when the duke is actually a duke.
– Sandy AAR