Here there be SPOILERS. Also foul language.
While at the grocery store for some frozen pizza (my husband and I were too lazy to cook like the adults we’re pretending to be), I walked by the paper goods section which includes novels. I have been reading romance books for the past couple of years now and up until now I had always read them on my Kindle. This time I said, “fuck it, I’m not embarrassed by those covers” and bought myself the first romance that caught my eye that fateful day. So I got The Scottish Duke by Karen Ranney.
I wish I could say that it was the best decision I could have made, but I have to say, I’m up to chapter five or so and I am not liking this book. Before I get to my main gripe with this book, I will start with the smaller gripes.
My first issue with this book is that we are told that our protagonist Lorna is a gentleman’s daughter and as such is the social equal of most of the people in attendance at the inciting incident ball at Blackhall Castle. But she serves as a maid here and the book itself does not explain why this is the case, the only reason we really get is what can be found on the back of the book. While holding back plot information found on the back of the book is de rigueur, the very beginning of the book is already the place where that information would be useful since Lorna is getting ready to sneak into the ball after a day of working and then casually the narration mentions how she’s a social equal.
There are also mentions of how her father’s book is in publishing limbo and she hopes that as soon as it is published she will be able to give up her job. No mentions of the fact that her father is dead are made. If I hadn’t read the back of the book I would have been seriously confused. I realize that most people read the back of the book before buying said book, but I do hope that my reading can stand on its own.
But fine, I’m just at the beginning, so perhaps the book will redeem itself later on this account.
This novel is a Cinderella retelling with the exception that the main couple doesn’t dance all night and fall in love at first sight but sort of bone in a somewhat public place and then continue to actually bone in a somewhat more private place. I’m not very happy about the fact that Lorna has been lusting after Alex, the Duke of Kinross (the master of Blackhill Castle, her place of employment). I’m not a fan of a young ingenue who has a crush on a person of the male persuasion (though this has been flipped gender-wise in heterosexual relationships, it’s traditionally this setup; my dislike continues despite the gender combinations) who has absolutely no idea who she is because he doesn’t even ever glance her way.
But he’s a duke and she’s one of his many, many maids, I hear you say! Yes, she works for him and he can’t even be bothered to at least somewhat interact with his employees, or at least recognize their faces after having had sex with them the night before. That’s all right, I’ll let this point go, but as soon as she wears a different outfit, suddenly she’s noticeable!
This is a romance novel, so the premise promises a future romance between these two, but from the get go, Lorna is in love with Alex and it doesn’t seem like she even knows all that much about him. For one thing, Alex is a scientist of some sort (it’s not clear what sort since his mentions of “specimens” is exactly that vague and all we know is that his work was copied by some other guy and he’s pissed) and yet Lorna never remarks on that connection to her father, who is (was?) also a scientist of an equally indeterminate discipline. It’s never made clear why she likes him aside from his broody good looks. While that’s enough of a reason for attraction and pleasure is enough for Lorna to just forget societal mores for a quickie in the conservatory with the duke, you’d think a woman whose position in society is incredibly precarious (due to a dead father and needing to work thanks to not having any money) would be more aware of the consequences of having unprotected sex (birth control clearly never a concern until the 1960’s*). But nope!
Even the magic of fiction doesn’t save her from becoming pregnant, which is where I’m at now in the book. Not only is she pregnant, but she also no longer has that job as a maid in the castle though it’s only slightly implied that her pregnancy is the reason why she’s unemployed. Basically she’s down on her luck now and suffering.
To be clear: I am not saying, “ha serves you right for having sex!” I think sexual freedom and women’s right to pleasure are very important. I’m not enjoying this book, not because the main characters have sex right off the bat, it’s the fact that the duke is first of all, drunk while they do the deed and couldn’t recognize Lorna the morning after having accused her of seducing him to blackmail him (which oh boy is a whole other can of worms I’ll probably address later). I get that the whole “seeing a person in a specific context” works to explain away why Clark Kent is never outed, but I have a hard time believing that an intelligent man (even one who was drunk but seemingly, not that drunk) can look a woman straight in the eye and then not at least think she looks somewhat familiar.
What I’m saying in such a long winded fashion is that for now it seems that the book is punishing Lorna for daring to lust after a man and deciding to pursue her pleasure. And as a reader, the smut was not nearly substantial enough to make up for the aforementioned shortcomings.
So this is my first impression of the book. I’ll keep slogging through and periodically report. Perhaps I’ll change my tune on The Scottish Duke.
* This is not the case, but whatever. The duke didn’t even try to pull out after his penis let him know that she was a virgin and he thought that she was a lady of some standing at the time, for whom an illegitimate pregnancy would have consequences that he would actually care about.
If you’re interested in purchasing The Scottish Duke (The Dukes), then look no further!