Saturday, 17 March 2018

#CBR10 Book 21: "My Once and Future Duke" by Caroline Linden

Page count: 384 pages
Rating: 3.5 stars

Sophie Graham is twelve when she is orphaned and left in the care of her arrogant grandfather, the Viscount Makepeace. Her father, his second son, eloped with an opera singer (Sophie's mother) and was summarily disowned. Sophie spent her childhood travelling through Europe with her parents. When both her parents die from illness, there is no one left for Sophie. Her grandfather sends her to boarding school, where she befriends Miss Eliza Cross, the daughter of an industrialist, and Lady Georgiana Lucas. Sophie's grandfather pays her tuition until she is 18, then she has to make her own way in the world. Working as a ladies' companion for a while, Sophie is left 300 pounds in the widow's will, and uses the money to set her "grand plan" in motion. Inventing a dead husband, so she is now Mrs. Campbell, Sophie uses the gambling skills and her gift for card counting to slowly amass a nest egg for herself, gambling at the Vega Club in London. She wants to continue until she's set aside ten thousand pounds, and then either find herself a nice husband or retire to the country and live on the interest of her money.

Having managed to save up about four thousand pounds, Sophie is still a long way off her goal when she encounters Jack Lindeville, the Duke of Ware. The duke has come to the Vega Club, forced to pay off the gambling debts of his reckless younger brother, Philip, and is determined to make the man stop throwing his money away without any care of consequences. When the duke sees his brother, who only earlier that day swore he would no longer visit the club, gambling with an attractive woman, he challenges said woman, Sophie, to a game instead. Sophie discovers that the duke is not much of a gambler, and is quite happy to keep taking his money, until the duke makes a rather extravagant wager. If she wins, Sophie gets five thousand pounds. If she loses, she is to spend the next week with the duke. As this is a romance novel, of course Sophie loses, and Jack, determined to teach his brother a lesson, spirits Sophie away right there and then. While she protests, he takes her to his country home a bit outside London, where they end up trapped for several days because of the rain turning all the roads back to London to mud.

Jack desires Sophie, but regrets his impulsive actions almost immediately. Sophie, in turn, really does not need her reputation to be tarnished any further than it already has been. She already makes her living from gambling, but otherwise makes sure her reputation is spotless. If society believes her to be the duke's mistress, she'll no longer be allowed to see her friends, Eliza and Georgiana, and she'll lose any chance at a decent marriage. Nevertheless, they can't travel for a few days, and Sophie tries to figure out why the duke acted so rashly and what makes him tick. Soon they are starting to become friends, but are also aware of the attraction simmering between them. The dukes of Ware never marry for love or on impulse, and Sophie is perfectly aware that she's far from the suitable wife for a duke. Their relationship can't really go anywhere, can it?

The dedication of this book is for Miranda Neville, in memory of her, to be exact. I hadn't even realised that she had passed away, but some quick googling gave me additional details. Back in 2015, during Cannonball 7, I read The Wild Quartet, the best of which was absolutely The Duke of Dark Desires, but I enjoyed all four. I had always planned to check out more of Ms. Neville's books, both from her back catalogue and newer ones. It seems Ms. Neville died in October of last year, after battling cancer, so it seems extra appropriate to be reviewing this book, dedicated to her memory for CBR. We are all about the F*CK cancer, after all.

I discovered Caroline Linden as an author a few years ago, with her series The Truth About the Duke. All the books in that series were very enjoyable and well-written, and I keep reading her books, hoping that she'll once again write something of the same quality. She keeps being favourably reviewed on romance review sites, but I tend to find her books mediocre at best, and rarely memorable for very long. The books are perfectly fine as I read them, and then I can't remember a thing about them about a week later. Very disposable entertainment. I do remember more of this book, but mostly just the bits that annoyed me.

What I disliked:
- What is the Duke of Ware's full name? I refuse to believe his given name is actually Jack, which seems far too informal a name for someone with a title that lofty.
- For all her insistence on not tarnishing her reputation, it takes less than three days for Sophie to jump into bed (or a sofa in the library, as the case may be) with the duke. She's rather bad at guarding her own virtue.
- There is something of the insta-love aspect to this book. Jack and Sophie spend very little time together before they fall head over heels. Yes, they actually initiate an affair and keep furtively meeting for what seems like weeks, but both have clearly fallen for the other before they pack up and leave the cosy country mansion to return to London.
- The dowager duchess was tiresome in the extreme, and her complete inability to see anything inappropriate in her younger son's behaviour and lifestyle choices was rather implausible.
- The third-act complication keeping the lovers apart - and how it needed to be resolved. There's a lot of needless drama to keep the couple apart for longer than is necessary, which felt like it just dragged the story out.

What I did like:
- Sophie's plan is a very sensible one, and it's nice to see someone making their own way in the world with mathematical skills and playing the odds. Until the duke of Ware dangles five thousand pounds in her face, she never seems to take foolish risks, preferring to spend a bit longer saving up to secure her future.
- Once he's corrected on his judgmental preconceptions about Sophie and her lifestyle, Jack very quickly comes to admire Sophie as much as she deserves.
- The friendship between Sophie, Eliza and Georgiana was nice, even though I would have liked some more time spent on their meetings. Eliza's clearly going to be the heroine of the next book.

As so many romances I read these days, this was a perfectly ok read, with nothing too objectionable to make me upset, but also nothing much to make me want to re-read it any time soon or remember it come next month.

Judging a book by its cover: See, here the cover designer has clearly had some idea of the contents of the book. The cover model has the same hair colour as our heroine, and she's wearing a red dress (obviously showing way more skin than any respectable Regency woman ever would, but such is the ways of romance covers), just as Sophie is in the scene where she first meets the Duke of Ware. They've even given her a playing card to hold, with additional cards on her lap. It's not great, but I'll take it.

Crossposted on Cannonball Read.

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