I’ll Admit It: I Like Duke Books

jacmanYes, I’m one of those romance readers who fits the cliché:  Just give me a box of bon bons and a shirtless duke in a cape and I’m all set.

Okay, so I’m not quite that clichéd.  Bon bons have w-a-a-a-a-y too many carbs and just slapping the title on any wallpaper character  doesn’t cut it.

I like dukes when authors make me actually believe they are dukes.

A sterling example is Mary Balogh in Slightly Dangerous.  Much of the book is told from Wulfric’s POV and the reader knows that every fiber of his being is consumed by the responsibilities of his rank to his family, his tenants, and his servants.  The life and livelihood of hundreds – and maybe even thousands – depend on him and he never forgets it even for one moment.

Is he burdened by the weight?  Yes, undeniably.  Would he change his lot in life? Not really. Wulfric knows and accepts that he has a role to play in life and he will do nothing but his utmost to meet the challenge each and every day, no matter what the cost may be in personal sacrifice.

That makes it even more moving when Wulfric finds himself succumbing to the charms of a woman who is, by the standards of his world, a wildly inappropriate match for him.  Love fells the mighty duke and, at the hands of one of the most skilled romance authors of all time, readers feel it.

That to me, fellow readers, is romance.

And then there is Judith McNaught in the much-maligned (and deservedly so), but also much-loved Whitney, My Love.  I read this book w-a-a-a-a-y back in the day when it was originally published and I remember thinking excitedly, “wow, it’s a big Regency with sex!”  And that it was.  (I’ve heard Ms. McNaught  says she invented the Regency Historical.  I think she’s right.)

Despite all its flaws – the rape, and the twit of an “I hate you” heroine who was named…ahem…Whitney being the most egregious – the book caused my heart to turn over more than once when I was reading it for the very first time.

The reason I will always have a soft spot for that book lies in McNaught’s Duke of Claymore.  The duke is implacable in his power and privilege and he doesn’t hesitate to use all the resources at his considerable command to get what he wants.  And to put it simply, when a man like that is humbled by love, I am toast.

So, considering the current proliferation of duke books, you’d think I’d be wallowing in the bounty, right?  Nope.  Far from it.  Because for me simply slapping the title of “duke” on a character who then proceeds to behave like a 21st century frat boy adds up to a big, fat fail.

Bottom line? I love my duke books – always have, always will. But only when the duke is actually a duke.

- Sandy AAR

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21 Responses to I’ll Admit It: I Like Duke Books

  1. Magdalen says:

    I was impressed with the Duke of Bedwyn’s backstory to explain how he was the duke, and thus had irrevocable obligations, and that couldn’t change. But the best evocation of being hemmed in by privilege comes in Jo Beverley’s An Unwilling Bride, where the hero is the heir to the dukedom but the entire household is nearly rigid with consequence. It’s ruined for me any book that has a marquess or duke and no servants! Pull the other one, as they say…

  2. mdegraffen says:

    I adore the Wulfric character from Balogh’s books. He is a favorite of mine. I’m also partial to a marquess: Jo Beverley’s Rothgar – Bey Malloren. He reminded me of Wulfric in many ways. It’s great to see these arrogant men made vulnerable by love. As for Whitney My Love, I tried to read it once but it was a DNF, a wallbanger for me. I really dislike that book.

  3. RobinB says:

    My favorite duke is Stephen Kenyon, the Duke of Ashburton who first appeared in “Shattered Rainbows” and got his own story in “One Perfect Rose”, both part of the Fallen Angels series by Mary Jo Putney. Unlike many “dukes” who get their titles through very convoluted circumstances, Stephen was born and raised to be a duke, but once he got the title, he never changed the way he went about his business. No bullying, unlike his father who had treated Stephen’s younger brother terribly.

    Oh, and thank you so much for that lovely photo of Hugh Jackman in his “Kate and Leopole” role–what a nice way to start my morning!! :)

  4. RobinB says:

    OOPS! That’s “Leopold”, not “Leopole”!!

  5. PatW says:

    Sandy – you have captured perfectly the problem have with so many of the more recent European historicals, there is no sense of privilege coupled with obligation on the part of the titled heroes. It drives me crazy when I don’t see them engaged in running their estates. Or even, for that matter, having a competent agent whose reports they read!
    I wonder if I have a skewed memory of the regencies/historical from the 80s and 90s because the ones on my keeper shelf get it right and those that didn’t have long faded into oblivion.
    Although he doesn’t seem as burdened by his obligations as Wulfric or Bey Malloreen, I’d like to add to your list someone with a lower rank in society, who is just as conscious of his obligations and that is Sir Waldo Hawkridge from Heyer’s The Nonesuch.

  6. Maria F says:

    Speaking of Georgette Heyer, how about the Duke of Salford, Sylvester?

    And for a quite different take (but still a DUKE) for someone who came to the title very young and so must assert himself against well-meaning but interfering relatives, the Duke of Sale in The Foundling.

  7. Tee says:

    I have a couple of favorites also, although not all of them are dukes. Balogh’s Duke of Bedwyn is one of them, as you mentioned. Others are Candace Camp’s Duke of Rochford in the Marriage series and now the Earl of Stewkesbury in the first book of her current series. I also enjoyed the Marquess of Easterbrook in Madeline Hunter’s previous series. There are more, but these are people who took their responsibilities seriously and provided ample fodder for books in a series until they got their own stories.

  8. AAR Sandy says:

    Thanks, everyone, for the suggestions. I have more duke books to read.

    Maria F, I actually thought of Sylvester when I was writing this and almost included him. It’s one of my favorites by Heyer. Sylvester was strangled by his ducal status, nevertheless, took is as his duty and responsibility.

    Dare I admit that I’ve never loved the Jo Beverly books that I’ve tried? Since so many people love her books so much, does it help to say that I think it’s MY problem?

  9. Dukes weren’t the most powerful, the most handsome, or even the richest people in Regency society. Plain Mr. Pitt was probably the richest and the most influential, for instance. Later, an earl, Lord Castlereagh, had the unofficial title. Dukes got to walk first in processions. That’s about it.
    Another duke book actually puts me off and tends to show that the author hasn’t really thought it through. With some great exceptions. My favorite is Kinsale’s “Flowers From The Storm” where the fact that Jervaulx is a duke is an important part of the plot and the motivations of the characters.
    There weren’t that many of them, either.

  10. BevQB says:

    DEVIL CYNSTER… Best.Duke.Ever.

    Particularly as read with aristocratic haughtiness by Simon Prebble in the audio book for Stephanie Lauren’s DEVIL’S BRIDE.

  11. JML says:

    oh, he has to be without the cape, but I love a duke too.

    I recommend Loretta Chase’s DON’T TEMPT ME with Lucien the Duke of Something (I’ve forgotten).

    Chase wrote him as I imagine many of his kind were, unseeing and uncaring of the people that served him. He didn’t think he should have to think about everyday, mundane things. He was reformed, of course.

    I loved that character and that he had a wonderful sense of the absurd. That he very sexy didn’t hurt either, but still. Loved him.

  12. CEAD says:

    I love non-wallpaper dukes too. My ongoing list of my favourite heroes has a disproportionally large representation from dukes (and, to a lesser extent, marquesses). I particularly like it when the duke’s book is the last of a series and the reader is allowed to drool after him in anticipation. When the duke’s book is first, it always seems like a bad sign even if it isn’t.

    Thanks for posting this. I’m relatively new to romance (I’ve only been reading it for about two years), so a lot of the delicious dukes mentioned here aren’t familiar to me, and I really appreciate the recommendations. Candace Camp’s Duke of Rochfort is my favourite duke so far.

  13. Victoria S says:

    Sandy, you are soooooooo right, and I love a good Duke myself. All the examples given are Dukes written at their finest. I’d like to throw my oar in the water for Vere Mallory, Duke of Ainswood in Loretta Chase’s “The Last Hellion”, he resents being the Duke because so many had to die for him to get the title. Great stuff!!!

  14. Amy says:

    Sandy, I’m with you as I read the first sentence I was already thinking of Clay from WML. Yes the book has as many haters as it does fans but Clay is a duke through and through. The description of his homes and is power and position where so clear you could imagine him as he walked in a room. One of the things I really enjoyed was that he had a loving mother, his brother wasn’t out to kill him to get the title and although his father was dead all the memories where good. I love a grand duke with all the power and status. By the way I love this book I have many copies and read once each summer. It was the reason I now read historial romance.

  15. Janet W says:

    Duke not a duke. How about the duke in Balogh’s Unlikely Duchess? Or the duke in Heyer’s book with the Purple Satin Dress? (Sorry, blanking out). Another Balogh duke, Bridgwater in The Plumed Bonnet. Or her duke in Heartless. The sense of separation from their fellow men and their families always struck me.

    In fact Jo Beverley’s latest book … another blank on title … a Georgian, struck me as not accurately portraying the hero as a duke. I did not sense his responsibilities or his power. But St. Raven, by Beverley, did show the dilemma of dukedom — and their powerless to make some life choices (St. Raven could not marry where there was not money — even if he were to want to, he could not do it to the duchy).

    I could go on and on: dukes done right are great but slapping duke on a character does not a duke make and that is the more common duke in romantic historical fiction.

  16. LizA says:

    I am with Lynne Connolly. I think the perception of the duke as the most powerful aristocrat is a kind of misunderstanding or misconception about rank and the way these things worked. Sure, he got to walk first and to be addressed as “your grace”. But many time untitled men or “lower tytles” were more influential. I actually prefer not to read about another duke, although I liked some of them. But there is such an inflation of dukes out there these days. it has me longing for a plain mr.

  17. Sunita says:

    JanetW, the recent Jo Beverley book is The Secret Duke. I liked it much more than the AAR reviewer did, and unlike you, I thought that Beverley did a good job of showing the responsibilities that went with power and wealth. If I remember correctly, he was competing for political influence with Rothgar, and he was concerned about being in London during politically important events.

    The book with the Purple Satin Dress is The Foundling, I believe (Gilly, the Duke of Sale). In that book he is attempting to escape his responsibilities and find out what a commoner’s life would be like. In the end he realizes that even with the constraints, being a Duke has its advantages. And having just reread the Dark Angel series, I agree that Bridgewater’s ducal responsibility and upbringing is well depicted.

    I agree that there is a ridiculously large number of Dukes in romancelandia, to the detriment of untitled powerful characters. But there *were* quite a few important Dukes, and there were lower-ranked aristocrats and commoners who were powerful and chose to turn down dukedoms when offered. Of course, that could never happen in a romance novel because the reader wouldn’t believe it. :-)

  18. reader says:

    Yaaay! I love a duke. When well written, they can be the ultimate Regency Alpha Males

  19. Robin says:

    The first duke I remember reading about, when I was 12, is still my favorite. Duke of Avon, from These Old Shades.

  20. Isabel says:

    I went and bought slightly dangerous, and I loved it’s duke! thank you for the tip.

  21. Pat Henshaw says:

    Is Christine totally unsuitable for Wolfric? I don’t think so. She has presence, is comfortable in herself, doesn’t take any guff from others, is compassionate, and is completely well meaning. She commits the faux pas that she does because she hasn’t been subjected to nor memorized all the rules of society which might make one think she’s unsuitable, but she’s not a dolt. Learning the rules will be easy for her; whether she decides to follow them or not is the question. But given her basic self, she will be a model duchess–just as Wulf is the perfect duke for her.

    Lynne, I agree about the Kinsale book. That the man has suffered a stroke and is about to be declared insane makes the story exceptionally moving. (I read this quite by coincidence after my father had a stroke, and it helped me “see” the world from his viewpoint and help understand what he was going through–something that the doctors couldn’t quite communicate as well.)

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