Friday, 5 October 2018
#CBR10 Book 85: "A Duke by Default" by Alyssa Cole
Rating: 1.5 stars
#CBR10Bingo: Cover Art
Spoiler warning! This review will discuss plot points from the book in detail, because it is impossible for me to list the many ways in which this book did not work for me without mentioning them. If you are unfamiliar with Scotland, Edinburgh and couldn't care less about the British peerage, then maybe these things will not bother you. Nevertheless, be warned that you may get spoilers if you continue with my review after the bold text further down.
New York socialite Portia Hobbs arrives in Edinburgh to complete an apprenticeship with a sword maker. Unfortunately, her new boss seems to be trying his very best to avoid her and while he's very hot, he also seems to be severely lacking in social skills. One of the reasons Portia has decided to go to a different continent for a while is that she was pretty much a hot mess in her old life - drinking too much, sleeping around and hurting friends and family members. She's determined to be a new and better Portia, and that person doesn't sleep with her boss. So she does her best to help out his flagging business while waiting for him to teach her what she's actually there to learn.
Tavish "Tav" McKenzie loves making swords and daggers, and as well as running Bodotria Armoury, he gives free fighting lessons to underprivileged kids and tries to make a difference in the rapidly gentrifying community. He doesn't entirely see why his brother hired him an apprentice, and he certainly wasn't expecting a posh and sexy American to show up, with tons of ideas of how he can improve his business through an improved social media presence. While he finds Portia very attractive, Tav is aware both of the difference in their ages and the fact that he's her boss. He's not intending to act on his attraction to her, and so instead tries to keep her at a distance by being as gruff as possible.
When Portia accidentally reveals on social media that Tav may in fact be the son of a duke, his life is suddenly changed completely and Portia feels responsible. Used to high society, she's determined to coach him in etiquette, so he can assume his rightful position, if that's what he wants to do.
I really wanted to like this. I did. I'd heard such good things about it on several romance review sites. The cover is beautiful. I think diversity in romance writing is incredibly important and Alyssa Cole cares about geeky stuff and complex and interesting female characters. Sadly, however, this book was not the book to win me over. I find it baffling that Ms Cole, who clearly writes very well researched historical romances set during the American Civil War shows such appalling lack of research skills when she writes in a contemporary setting.
Things that made it impossible for me to like this book:
- The book is set in Edinburgh. I have lived there for two years. Several of my dear friends still live there. The husband and I visit it often. The area most of the story takes part in is a fictional area called Bodotria, when it is clearly meant to be Leith, which is an actual, rapidly gentrifying section of Edinburgh. I cannot for the life of me understand why Ms Cole had to make up a new part to set her story in.
- The "Scottish" accents. Don't get me started on the fun interpretation of colloquial Scottish vernacular that many of the characters, including Tav speak.
- Turns out, Tav's biological dad (who his mother decided to leave because she was a poor, Chilean refugee and their union would never have worked out) is a duke. Not just any duke, however, a Royal Duke. The Duke of Edinburgh, in point of fact. This is where any suspension of disbelief I had went up in a fiery inferno of fury, because 1) The only royal dukes in Great Britain are directly related to the current monarch - in this case, Queen Elizabeth II. None of them are Scottish.This can be easily discovered with a quick Google search. 2) The Duke of Edinburgh is a title that has only existed three times in the history of the UK. The current, contemporary one is Prince Phillip, consort to aforementioned Queen Elizabeth II. 3)
There are in fact several Scottish dukedoms that Ms Cole could have used instead, but I can only surmise that since the title of this series of books is Reluctant Royals, a normal duke (still the highest order of peerage after the actual royals in the UK) wasn't good enough and had to make up a fictional royal dukedom to give to Tav's bio dad. Why in the world she couldn't just invent a new dukedom, rather than the one belonging to the man MARRIED to the current Queen is anyone's guess. How no one in Ms Cole's editing team didn't think to take her aside and say: "You know the Duke of Edinburgh is the Queen's husband, right?" seems like dereliction of duty of the highest order.
But Malin, I hear you say, it's only a romance novel. Why does this bother you so much? The answer, dear reader, is that if Alyssa Cole wanted her hero to have a Scottish duke as a father, she could have made up a title instead - like she made up a fictional part of Edinburgh. If this is in fact set in some alternate reality, where there is no Queen Elizabeth II (although the Queen featured later in the book sure seemed a LOT like her) and her husband is not the Duke of Edinburgh, then she should have made this a hell of a lot more clear.
- Tav is utterly undeserving of Portia (even as much of a mess as she seems to think she is). He treats her appallingly for much of the book and thoroughly deserved to be pepper sprayed by her. I don't care that he's nice to down on their luck local children if he can't treat a woman in his employ with basic respect and decency.
- Portia is supposed to be in Edinburgh to apprentice to a sword smith. She makes ONE sword in her three months there! Apart from that, she's Tav's secretary/PR-person/social media rep.
- It would have been nice if the villain of the story was slightly less of a racist stereotype, but this is so far down my list of grievances to be negligible.
- For all that Portia claims to be a hot mess and discovers through online tests that she most likely suffers from ADHD, she sure is beautiful, fit, personable and extremely competent at everything she sets her mind to.
Things I actually liked:
- Tav's sister in law, Cheryl, is adorable and runs a Chinese takeaway out of a little kiosk painted to look like a TARDIS. It's called Doctor Hu's.
- Portia, for all that she is almost too perfect (no matter what she tells herself), was very likable and I wanted better for her than Tav. Her family (minus the sister, who could be WAY better at communicating) is clearly awful and she should cut her toxic parents out of her life for good.
- Portia's friends all seemed pretty great. Not enough that I want to go back and read the first book in the series, but both Nya and Naledi were fun supporting characters.
- Prince Johan (of made up European principality - see, if you can make up new parts of Edinburgh and Europe, you can make up alternate peerage as well, Ms. Cole), who seems to be the hero of the next book in the series.
Sadly, based on this book and the rage it produced in me, I'm not sure I'm going to check out any more of the Reluctant Royals series. I'm frankly slightly reluctant to read any more Alyssa Cole at all, despite having enjoyed (but not loved) two of her historicals. I may give her a new chance in time, though.
Judging a book by its cover: Long before this book came out, I was interested in it because of the pretty cover. Having now read the book, I think the cover may in fact be one of the best things about it. The cover models look pretty much like the characters they're supposed to portray and I absolutely love both the hair and the warm shades of the dress on the female cover model.
Crossposted on Cannonball Read.