Desperately Seeking a Duke

Celeste Bradley
March 2008, European Historical Romance (Regency England)
St. Martin's, $6.99, 332 pages, Amazon ASIN 031293968X
Part of a series

Grade: C-
Sensuality: Warm

You know, these tortured premises for European Historicals that are part of a series are getting ever more…well, tortured. Consider this one: A self-made man with a distaste for lazy, foppish aristocrats leaves a will decreeing that the first of the young women in his family to marry a duke will inherit his large fortune. Now, keep in mind that since he despises aristocrats, it's hard to figure out why he would see marrying one as any kind of achievement, so the only logical purpose this premise can possibly serve is giving the author and publisher a nifty excuse to insert the word “duke” into every single title in the series. So here we have Desperately Seeking a Duke, to be followed over the next two months by The Duke Next Door and Duke Most Wanted.

We’re not off to a good start either. Phoebe Millbury, the author’s first victim, meets a hot guy at a ball (the best place to meet hot guys in Regency England) and admires his arse. Soon both are all fired up about the other. Turns out, though, that he’s the bastard brother of the guy who’s going to be the duke and soon enough Phoebe finds herself engaged to the second guy for reasons that never really made sense. The best I can figure, the heir likes to piss off the bastard and what better way to do that than to engage himself to the woman he knows his brother desires?

So, this couple – who really just needed to, you know, have a conversation – do an awful lot of glancing and glaring and misunderstanding and lusting, all without even once engaging my attention or interest.

I’ve enjoyed Celeste Bradley before and, frankly, she’s never struck me as a “tell and not show” author, but that’s certainly the case here. The nonsensical plot and the relationship – such as it is – between Phoebe and her bastard never even remotely came to life for me. Matters aren’t helped by the time the author takes to set up the other entries in this series, with the next one featuring – and I know you’ll never believe this – the real ducal heir, who really needs to stop doing stuff like actually getting engaged to a woman he barely knows just to piss off his brother if he wants to be considered hero material.

In case you can’t tell by now, Desperately Seeking a Duke felt by the numbers and calculated (as in the cha-ching kind of way) to appeal to all those women desperately seeking their own safely predictable and unimaginative foray into Regency times. Suffice it to say I am not one of them.

-- Sandy Coleman

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