REVIEW: A Duke’s Temptation by Jillian HunterFriday, March 11, 2011 1:00
LynneC’s review of A Duke’s Temptation (The Bridal Pleasure Series, Book 1) by Jillian Hunter
Regency Romance published by Signet 1 Nov 10
I hadn’t tried Jillian Hunter’s books before, so I approached the book with an eagerness reflected by the great reviews this author tends to garner. By chapter three my hopes were somewhat dampened.
By that time it was obvious that I was dealing with another Regency fantasy story, where the author piles improbability on improbability and ends with impossible. Okay, I thought, I’ll read it for what it is and see if it satisfies on that level.
Before I get to the story I ought, in all fairness, to outline why it’s not a story that could ever have happened in the “real” Regency era.
References to institutions and establishments that occurred after the Regency were sprinkled in. “Fleet Street” to refer to the press, for example, and a “police station.” In 1816? No. The River Police had a single establishment, but I’ve visited it and it’s not likely any respectable woman would know about it, much less visit it. There were no police before the 1830s, although the Bow Street Runners did take care of some major crimes. Then the heroine, Lily, a well-born young lady with aristocratic relatives, decides to turn housekeeper. That’s the impossibility. Ladies didn’t, they just didn’t. For a start, the legion of domestic servants would rebel—housekeeper is a post reached after years of service, learning the trade, so to speak. And to be disgraced after one broken engagement—just no. The language, too, is far more American, with words like “gotten” cropping up at regular intervals, and the syntax closer to the American idiom than the English.
So I started to approach is as a Fantasy Regency. Even if publishers won’t make it a “formal” genre, I have it now as a definite. It will stop me harping on about historical inaccuracy and just take it as a given – read the story for what it is, rather than what it isn’t.
Basically, the heroine, Lily, a girl of good family, attends a masquerade dressed as the Goose Girl and although she is engaged, she goes into the garden with the Wicked Duke, and they share a kiss. On the basis of that, the duke decides he wants to marry her.
I’m fascinated by the trope of love at first sight. I’m romantic enough to believe that it happens and practical enough to believe that a longer-term relationship needs a bit more work. A delicious prospect. But I didn’t feel it, it just wasn’t there. The kiss was vaguely described and over too quickly. There were no lingering touches or yearning glances. The duke kisses her, Lily receives it. But I’m left unmoved. Since this is a big turning point, I couldn’t help feeling that more should have been made of it.
When Lily breaks her engagement, Samuel decides he will court her. He wants to marry her. The whole premise is delicious and melds well with Samuel’s alter ego as Don Quixote, the character he assumes at the masked ball at the start.
My first problem is that the book starts very, very slowly. Nothing really happens in the first few chapters except that we get a slew of backstory and a few meaningful looks. Then we get the kiss and a very strange, contrived story about Lily’s fiancée. It’s plot driven, and it had very little to do with the main story, except that it provides the story with a villain and makes Lily realise that she wants more than a comfortable marriage to a man she doesn’t know. I never really get a handle on Lily. At first she’s very young and very naïve, even more than a young lady would be expected to be. Then she turns into an intelligent woman capable of managing a house. I might have believed that, had the author given Lily a few years to mature and disappear from society’s gaze. But instantly? No. Even in the fantasy historical, the heroine can’t go from mistress to maid in an instant. She’d hear secrets, be privy to things she shouldn’t hear, and embarrass all and sundry by serving relatives. Lily did what she did to further the plot. She changes her character according to it.
Similiarly, athough the hero, Samuel, the Inevitable Duke, is supposed to be a rake of the first order, I just couldn’t see it. A rogue, maybe, but not a rake. He isn’t heartless, far from it. He’s the secret author of a tedious series of novels which, while playing lip-service to the Gothic romances of the Regency with a side order of Walter Scott, read like a modern novel. The books Samuel is supposedly writing are quoted extensively throughout, but its style is so similar to the style used in the main text that it’s difficult to tell the difference.
Samuel doesn’t have the duties or the status of a duke. His servants, especially his solicitor, talk to him as if he’s an equal, and there is no way that would happen. Moreover, it adds to the monotony of tone that everyone talks to everyone else the same way. Deference is almost completely absent, apart from the use of honorifics. Again, that gives the book a more American tone than English, but it also indicates the lack of depth of the rest of the story. Samuel goes from rake to author to wounded hero to lover and doesn’t convince in any of those guises.
Everything is too superficial, nothing delved. When there is trauma, we’re told about it, not made to feel it.
What kept me reading is the Don Quixote aspect of the story and the writing style. While this book can’t be compared with Cervantes, the “conceit” embodied in the book (I put the word in inverted commas because I mean the old sense of the word, not the new one) is fun. Samuel plays the knight-errant, and his quest is Lily. It’s sweet, the way he pursues her and wins her, and if only Hunter had pursued this and added real depth to the characters, this would have been a triumphant success. He has also rescued people from the gutter and made them his servants. It should have made for a chaotic, badly run household, and this would have added to the amusement, but that fizzles out and the servants are used to drive the nail home – he loves her, he wants her, they tell us.
Hunter’s style has a light touch, just what is needed with this kind of romance, and her turn of phrase could be charming. She makes me smile once or twice, especially in the earlier part of the book, before I grit my teeth and decide I’d finish it to see if it redeemed itself later. She writes very well, technically, and this is why I won’t be giving up on her books just yet.
I know what it feels like when characters refuse to grow and become alive. I had to start A Betting Chance all over again when my original couple couldn’t generate the chemistry I wanted. Instead of trying to make a silk purse from a sow’s ear, I started the book again and gave Corin a different heroine. This time they burned up the sheets. But had I been on a tight deadline, I’d have persisted. The book could have been good enough. This book reads something like that, as if Hunter hadn’t really invested in the characters but made them dance to her tune instead of their own.
Lily doesn’t have much of a character. She does what the plot demands and behaves as the plot demands. Practical, romantic, airy-fairy, she does them all, so it’s like reading about a bunch of different people.
I guess what I’m trying to say is that although this book should have been a delightful romance, it falls short. But I’ll read Hunter again and see if I have more luck with the next book.
The Duke of Gravenhurst, the notorious author of dark romances, is accused of corrupting the morals of the public. But among his most devoted fans is the well-born Lily Boscastle, who seeks employment as the duke’s personal housekeeper. Only then does she discover scandalous secrets about the man that she never could have imagined.
Read an excerpt.