MINI-REVIEW: Kelly Bowen’s DUKE OF MY HEART

Duke_Of_My_HeartMiss Bates’s heart went pitter-patter when Kelly Bowen’s hero in Duke Of My Heart first appeared. The heroine is ignorant of his duca-city and has “the vague impression of a worn greatcoat, battered boots, and a hulking bearing.” This is no ordinary ducal presence, suave, roguish, rakey, or even beta; this duke is PIRATICAL. And piratical is good: we don’t have enough ship-board romance and we need more! Alas, Maximus Harcourt, Duke of Alderidge is no more piratical than a Regency spinster. He is, however, a “hulking” presence and Miss Bates settled into Bowen’s Regency romance with smug satisfaction.

Maximus unexpectedly returns from India to an in-an-uproar household and Ivory Moore’s presence, a stranger in his rarely-occupied home. He is one irritated, confused duke. Max’s beloved eighteen-year-old sister, Lady Beatrice is missing; his Aunt Helen, beside herself; and, one naked, dead Earl of Debarry, aka the “Earl of Debauchery,” is tethered to his sister’s bed with red, satin ribbons. The scandal, she is HUGE! What was a spinster aunt to do but call on the ton’s detective-fixer, Ivory Moore, to hold back scandal and locate Beatrice.

Miss Bates loves a hero whose bark is growly and incensed, but whose heart is lamb-like. This is Maximus, railing and sputtering as the capable, ton-savvy Miss Moore takes him in hand. They spirit away Debarry’s body and make it look like he died of a heart attack instead of in the arms of the duke’s now-missing sister. Ivory advises Max to descend to the tittering ball and make like everything’s under control. He will have to, however, appear ducally-clad. Her officious management, a heroine trait Miss Bates adores, is evident in their exchange in the duke’s dressing-room:

“You cannot appear like a barbarous, disheveled pirate on the same night that your ball ends because there is a dead man in your guest room.”

“What did you just call me?”

“I didn’t call you anything. I simply commented upon your current appearance.” Ivory had reached the wardrobe and stopped. “Do you need me to shave you?”

Alderidge’s jaw dropped open. “What?”

This is the tone of the novel’s first third or so: droll, banter-ish, and fun. Maximus and Ivory are easy to like from their opening scenes and remain so to the end.

But it isn’t long before a sober note enters. Bowen’s Duke Of My Heart isn’t a frothy read, though it has its fun and funny moments. Lady Beatrice’s disappearance reveals a corrupt, exploitative aristocratic world, mingling with the Bill Sykes of the criminal underworld. Maximus and Ivory have to pit their wits against a network of debauched aristocrats who use the weak and vulnerable for sport and pleasure. As Maximus works with Ivory to return Beatrice to her family’s safe, loving bosom, he gets to know a loving, compassionate, and lethally intelligent woman; she sips tea with the ton in their drawing-rooms and waltzes at their balls, yet is not of them. Her independence, competence, and mystery fascinate him:

There was a critical question he’d failed to answer and that was who Miss Moore was. Her accent was that of a lady. Her address was that of a courtesan. Her furnishings were those of a princess. Her occupation was that of a confidence artist. Or worse.

How Ivory Moore came to be who she is and her journey to this place of self-sufficiency is heart-breaking. It is one of the novel’s strongest story-lines and worth reading for that alone.

And yet, Miss Bates cannot say that she was thoroughly captivated by Bowen’s Duke Of My Heart. She thought the novel’s first two-thirds was heavily plotted to the romance’s and characterization’s detriment. Miss Bates learned about Maximus and Ivory in dribs and drabs, piecemeal, and yet she yearned to know more of them. The novel was interesting in a page-turning kind of way without being emotionally engaging, which, to Miss Bates, is the genre’s raison d’être. Then, the last third made a melodramatic about-face. Miss Bates loved this. That emotional engagement finally came to the novel’s fore-ground. But the mystery’s resolution, which was bound up with the romantic one, was hasty and confusing. While Miss Bates loved Maximus’s final romantic gesture, she never understood the underlying reasons for it. Why Maximus and Ivory couldn’t be together remained vague and under-developped. They were free and wealthy, didn’t give a hoot for the ton’s opinion, and loved each other. The “impediments” to their “marriage of true minds” were contrived. With her reading companion, Miss Austen, Miss Bates says Bowen’s Duke Of My Heart offers the romance reader “real comfort,” Emma.

Kelly Bowen’s Duke Of My Heart is published by Forever (Grand Central Publishing). It was released on January 26th, 2016, and is available in e-format and paper at your preferred vendors. Miss Bates received an e-ARC from Forever, via Netgalley.

8 thoughts on “MINI-REVIEW: Kelly Bowen’s DUKE OF MY HEART

  1. I’ve fallen and I can’t get up! You know why? Because I’ve actually read this one before you reviewed it. 🙂

    I agree with your review. I had minor issues/quibbles with parts of this one, but I think the biggest was my lack of connection with the characters. The premise sounded promising, the characters should have been like catnip for me, and the writing was really good, but I never went beyond mild liking for it as a whole and merely lukewarm feelings for Ivory. Max, to be honest, irritated me sometimes, tending to act without thinking things through and reminding me of one too many histrom heroines guilty of doing the exact same thing and always to their detriment. I thought the strongest part of Duke of My Heart, the part which fully engaged my attention, was Ivory and King’s negotiations. Unfortunately, that one section was about all I remembered about this book. I read it, thought it pleasant, and later had trouble remembering the characters and most of the events.

    Shipboard romance? Pirates? Oh yeah!! I just finished one as a matter of fact, one of Teresa Medeiros’s older ones, Thief of Hearts. Hero is an honest to badness pirate by the name of Captain Doom menacing the seas with his ship Retribution along with a motley crew of misfits. The descriptions of the ship were marvelous – secret companionways with hidden trapdoors, all stained dark wood, black double silk sails, fast and sleek and deadly on the sea, a galley stove-cum-fog machine on the stern to confuse pursuers and to make it appear as if he and his ship appear right out of the mist on the sea, a false deck making the ship appear deserted while the men work underneath its cover when under attack to control the ship. I hope you get a chance to try it.

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    • Yup, your critique is spot-on. I wasn’t emotionally engaged and yet … I should have been. The thing that most annoyed me about Max, who, I think, really suffers from good ole simple stupidity, was the end when he does that planning thing without telling Ivory and then Ivory finds out. What an asshole thing to do. I’m trying to avoid spoilers and sounding quite demented. And as I said in my review, I’ll reiterate: these two were perfect together, and there was neither rhyme nor reason they should be apart, why their relationship was at such an impasse, I just didn’t get.

      Medeiros’s Thief Of Hearts sounds really marvelous, especially the bits about the ship appearing ghost-like, that’s really cool. I’m reading Donna Thorland’s Rebel Pirate and it’s absolutely marvelous. You would love it. … Gushing opening-line review to come. 😉

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      • Arrr! Venturing into spoiler territory be full of danger! Thar they be monsters!

        I’m going to finish Kris Kennedy’s Claiming Her (an Elizabethan romance, if you can believe it. Not a period that appears in a lot of romances) and then dive into Rebel Pirate. I’ve ordered The Dutch Girl, too, which sounds like it will be fantastic, spotlighting the Dutch colonists in the Hudson Valley/Hudson Highlands during the Revolutionary War, the patroonships, Dutch customs and culture. I’m really looking forward to reading that one! 🙂

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        • I think I may’ve read a Kennedy, some Irish-set one possibly, but I found it a bit slow-going so never revisited her books. I love Elizabethan romance though it’s so rare, it’s true. Have you read Meredith Duran’s At Your Pleasure? A marvelous Elizabethan-set rom and my favourite Duran. There is, of course, our beloved Judith James.

          I’m too looking forward to The Dutch Girl, but I’ve got Mistress Firebrand up next!!

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          • TBH Claiming Her is slow going for me too. As a matter of fact, I started it, my attention wandered and then I picked up THIEF OF HEARTS and haven’t gone back yet. But, I am determined to finish every book I start this year. Even if I sometimes would rather poke my eyes out with a sharp implement.

            I haven’t read AT YOUR PLEASURE though, as is my oft repeated reply, it’s on the TBR. Significantly reducing TBR is yet another goal I’m trying hard to stay true to this year. For each book I add, I’ve pulled two to read next. I was doing pretty well until I found a box of books I’d been hoarding for a rainy day and poof! TBR exploded again.

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            • I don’t think you should finish a book you’re hating. I rarely DNF (though I do on occasion and then I make my decision within the first chapter or so). I do put A LOT of books aside and try them again. I trust my emotional response as much as I do my intellectual one. In other less fancy words, I have to be in the mood for a book, even when I know it’s half way decent.

              Have I urged At Your Pleasure before on you?! XD That’s hilarious: who remembers anything anymore?! It IS marvelous though and I’m sure you’ll love it!

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            • LOL. No you hadn’t ‘urged’ AT YOUR PLEASURE before. It just seems to be my automatic response these days when someone recs a book to me followed by an overwhelming image of my overflowing bookcases I fondly refer to as MT. TBR. Which is why I’m making a diligent effort to reduce it. 🙂

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            • *sly side-eye* I haven’t … “urged” it at you, I mean. WELL! Read it, read it, you’ll love it!!!!!!

              I’m resigned to MtTBR staying huge and look forward to a poverty-stricken retirement. 😉

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