by Christine Wells, historical (2008)
Berkley, $6.99, ISBN 978-0-425-22326-0
If you take a sip of alcoholic beverage every time the heroine Kate Fairchild is forcibly molested by our hero Maxwell Brooke, you'd most likely be completely smashed by page 200 of The Dangerous Duke. There is a ridiculous old-school "forced seduction" feel to the romance, only this time instead of rape the hero stops short of the very fine line separating second base from third base. Don't worry, this is a romance story so the heroine secretly enjoys being thrown around and pawed roughly.
Kate's brother is imprisoned without a trial for not wanting to reveal the names of the people who burned down Max's family home and killed his family members, although Max'd like you to know that he's doing all this (imprisoning the brother and all) for the Greater Good of England in a time when the peasants are grumbling about their lot. Kate decides that if she has to create a tell-all memoir to blackmail Lord Sidmouth into releasing her brother, she'd do it. By that time, Max is already obsessed with her, so he decides to kidnap her as he tries to figure out how he can get her to persuade her brother to blab, abort the plan to release the memoir, and get into her pants while he's at it.
Kate is a pretty sensible heroine here. She's out of her depth here, but she is certainly intelligent and resourceful enough to fight back when her back is against the wall. When she realizes that someone is out to kill her, for example, she asks the hero to teach her how to use a weapon. She's not a delicate lily who cannot think for herself, that is for sure.
Unfortunately, she's paired with Max, easily the most stupid man in this entire story. Max is ridiculous. We are talking about a man who molests the heroine as if he's a caveman. Even when he has promised her some privacy so that she can bathe, he decides to charge into her room and molest her some more because he's too horny. There is alpha male with his hormones gone out of control and then there is a creepy fellow who is just one pill away from being a date rapist, and Max is dangerously skirting towards the latter territory here. And I don't know whether this is good or not, but I find his potential offensive antics more laughable than infuriating. Maybe this is because Max is easily the most stupid man in the story. He is wrong about everything, and seriously, I really mean everything.
The author is aware of the hero's unparalleled stupidity and brutish behavior, because she has Max experiencing belated epiphany late in the story. But by that time, it is too late and I have a hard time believing that intelligent Kate will be happy with this knuckle-dragging brute who must have skipped at least a millennium in the human evolutionary scale. Her "love" for Max seems to more like a lamentable inability to resist him when he starts tossing her like a sack of potatoes all over the place while grabbing at her bosom. Then again, given Kate's joyless relationship with her late husband, probably she's just so grateful for the orgasms Max is giving her that she is willing to settle for much less than she deserves.
Let's talk about the villain. [spoiler starts] I am not too pleased with the villain who turns out to be a case of someone who was raped and forced into a homosexual relationship and as a result he turns into a psychotic evil gay maniac. It is bad enough that he turns out to be the villain responsible for everything that is wrong in this story - how convenient - but he also shows how wrong, wrong, wrong the hero is all along. And let's face it, the Evil Homosexual Villain is such a lazy cliché in the romance genre. [spoiler ends]
The Dangerous Duke could have been an interesting story, but the silly plot and the donkey pretending to be a romance hero ruin everything. The author is aware of these shortcomings and the hero's nonsense is part of the plot, but she lets the buffoonery continue for way too long before she starts knocking some sense into the hero. And, come on, does Max have to be that stupid? The heroine is certainly too good for this story. That's not to say that this book is not readable though. It is, but that is because I find myself laughing at how absurd and even campy the story can be instead of marveling at Ms Wells' awesome talent.
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