Somehow, this is my first Tracy Anne Warren book. I know - unbelievable. You'd think I would have come across her in one of my Avon HR binges before now, but it appears that her series catchphrase -- Everyone knows the Byron brothers are "mad, bad and dangerous." -- discouraged me. Shocking, I know.
The Byron brother in At the Duke's Pleasure, Edward, the Duke of Clybourne, is hardly dangerous, but I consider him abso-fucking-lutely mad for putting up with the heroine, Lady Claire. Just take a list of the most annoying HR tropes, and Claire has a hand in almost all of them. Is this a secret time travel novel? That's the only thing that could explain why she acts like a spoiled, impetuous 16-year-old.
Basically, Edward and Claire have been engaged since she was an infant. It's an arranged marriage, you see, which is what just about everyone back in the day did to create powerful family alliances. As a teenager, Claire is thrilled to be engaged to Edward, because fuck yeah, he's hot AND a duke. She may as well have seen a unicorn using the Loch Ness Monster as a raft for all the more common hot and available dukes actually were. Edward, for his part, is less than thrilled because he feels like he's engaged to a child. A besotted 15-year-old Claire overhears Edward saying as much and is naturally heartbroken.
Whatever. She's a kid. By the time she grows up, I'm sure she'll understand what marriage is like in her time.
What reality did to my expectations.
Right. So, Edward comes back several years later to retrieve his bride. Claire's blossomed into a refined beauty, and she's been raised to be a duchess, so he figures it's a win-win. Note to Avon heroes: NEVER assume it's a win-win.
While Claire is older, she is not wiser. Still consumed with love for Edward, she decides she simply CAN'T marry him if he doesn't love her back. God, I hate this story line. But Edward won't release her from the engagement because it would make them both look bad and inconvenience his carefully arranged plans. So Claire goes to her dad, an earl who is quite pleased with the match, and asks him to release her from the betrothal. And her dad is like:
Thus, Claire agrees to go to London to "get to know" Edward as his fiancee while quietly scheming way to convince him to jilt her.
To recap: Claire wants the man she loves to jilt her.
Now that you know what a hare-brained idiot we're working with, I'm sure it's easy for you to see how implausible this story will be.
Claire has younger sisters. All they really have to do in life is get married and create heirs. And I get it, the past sucked donkey balls. But this is the world Claire lives in, and she pisses all over it. How marriageable do you think Claire's sister will be after...
She dances THREE TIMES at a ball with a man who's well-known for ruining another young lady, smokes cigars with noblemen, openly defies her fiance in public, races carriages in broad daylight, gambles with gentlemen, cuts all of her hair off, DRESSES AS A BOY TO SNEAK INTO A GENTLEMEN'S CLUB AND GAMBLE SOME MORE (this one irritated me the most), and leaves a ball with the bad man who ruins lady.
Sure, all of these things would usually cause a man to cry off, but they would also RUIN you and your family and bring into question the character of the people who associate with you. Claire lives in this fantasy world where all she has to do is drive away the man she loves (I know, the logic hurts) and go back to living her respectable little life in middle-of-nowhere England. I'm pretty confident that every Jane Austen novel ever has established that life wasn't that damn simple back then.
Edward, bless his stupid little heart, refuses to jilt his spirited bride. He just soaks up all of the scandal with his name and title and goes to great lengths to appease her. But can he appease her with the love she really wants?
I refuse to answer that question.
For all of its character flaws, the book is incredibly readable. BAVR was entertained the whole time, and that's a feat in itself. Warren writes a steamy love scene, and despite the fact that I think Claire will send Edward to an early grave, their chemistry is believable.
To be honest, I'd rather wade in the sea of HR WTFery than read any contemporary or new adult romances at present, so At the Duke's Pleasure was sort of a treat. If Claire had been any less stupid, I may have rated it higher than 2.5 stars.
But here's some good news for Warren: I'll be reading the next book in the series. Avon Soup is my favorite comfort food, after all. >:D
"At the Duke's Pleasure" is a part of my http://www.goodreads.com/review/list/6303796?shelf=care-package-ageddon Care-Package-Ageddon series of book reviews in gratitude to my GR friend Karla for sending me a GIANT BOX O'BOOKS. She said I "might" like some of them. o_O