Review, The Duke Project

Review: The Duke of Her Desire by Sophie Barnes (2018)

Diamonds in the Rough, Book 2

Heat Factor: Room temperature

Character Chemistry: Sweet and believable

Plot : Overstuffed

Overall: Get it from the library

The Duke of Her Desire is the second installation in a trilogy which follows the three Matthews siblings, who grew up in the slums, and then abruptly enter society when Raphe Matthews discovers that he’s a duke. I have not read the first book – Raphe’s story – so some of my criticisms about plotting could stem from not knowing the details of the larger story arc.

This book tells the story of Amelia Matthews, who has spent her life managing a household and being extremely competent at holding things together, and now finds herself as a bit of a fish out of water. Enter Thomas Heathmore, Duke of Coventry, who agrees to help launch her into society; he is a duke after all, as well as a stickler for propriety. As they spend time together, both in society and in working together to open a charity school for children in the slum where Amelia grew up, they fall in love.

Let me start by saying that the development of their feelings towards each other works really well. When the book opens, Amelia already has a bit of a crush on Thomas. He’s very handsome, and he danced with her at her first ball (presumably described in the first book of the trilogy). So, she is naturally a bit stiff and nervous around him, which makes her do things like spill tea while she’s pouring, which makes her even more stiff and nervous. Thomas, as a friend to her family, works to put her at ease; at the beginning, however, he doesn’t harbor any particular romantic feelings towards her, only tremendous respect for the way she stepped up to keep her family together.

This early dynamic changes when Thomas learns of the school Amelia wants to open. He gets angry at her for lying and sneaking around in dodgy neighborhoods, and his passionate outburst allows Thomas and Amelia to see each other more clearly. Amelia defends herself and her ideas, and in the process loosens up around Thomas. Thomas, in turn, is impressed by the fact that she stands up for herself, and also by her plans for educating poor children. As they work together, their friendship develops in a natural way, and eventually turns to mutual desire and then love.

Please note: If you like your romance novels steamy, maybe skip this one. There is some sexual tension, particularly when Thomas starts desiring Amelia, but not much else. They kiss a few times, and there is one perfunctory sex scene right at the end, after they get married.

The problem, however, is that there are too many obstacles placed between them, so there is not enough space to really develop any one component of the plot. Honestly, even the basic conflict in their relationship would be enough to build a story around: she loves him, but feels unworthy of him because of her childhood; he’s in denial about his feelings. But we also have several side plots:

  • Amelia MUST get married this year or she’ll be on the shelf and doomed to spinsterhood. So she does some courting of other men. This particular side plot is the most effective and furthering the development of the love story, because it is only upon getting a proposal of marriage from another man that Amelia realizes that she can’t settle for anything short of love, even if that means she’ll be alone forever. Also, Thomas is jealous. However, there is a lot of time and detail spent advancing this storyline, only for it to completely disappear about halfway through the book.
  • Thomas is parenting a special-needs child, and therefore decides that he doesn’t have time for a wife. What? That logic makes no sense.
  • Amelia’s school project is beset by disaster after disaster. But the disasters are no accident! There’s an evil criminal mastermind who wants the property for a brothel instead. What?!?

The criminal mastermind bit is the one that I found particularly distracting and unnecessary in terms of plot. Yes, the plot device of “My lady love is injured! Now I know how I feel about her!” is convenient for getting Thomas to realize his true feelings, but come on. (To be fair, there are clear signposts that the evil bad guy was part of the first book, and that the evil bad guy has a history with the hero of book three, so I assume that he’ll be back, but still.)

One final note. Sophie Barnes writes her in author’s note: “my intention and hope for this series is to explore class differences during the Regency period by getting the very rich and the very poor to mix and mingle.” This particular story was not that successful in this regard. Amelia used to be very poor, but now she is very rich. Sometimes she feels weird about spending money on frivolous things, and she chafes at the limitations placed on her by society – when she was poor, she had a lot more freedom to do things like walk outside without an escort. So there is some social commentary about class. However, there are no actual poor characters for the duke to actually mingle with. (Sorry, evil criminal masterminds don’t count.) The characters spend a lot of time talking about the poor children of the slums, but we never actually see any.

Overall: not a bad love story, but not amazing. Would I read another book by Sophie Barnes? Probably. Will I remember this book next month? Probably not.  

Buy Now: Amazon

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