Heirs Club of Scoundrels, Book 1
Heat Factor: Moderately coercive
Character Chemistry: Loathing each other, longing for each other
Plot: Dissolute Duke makes a vow to marry a dying man’s sister
Overall: Maybe if you really love dukes you’d like it?
Here’s the premise: Bray, heir to the Duke of Drakestone, spends his days running around London drinking, gambling, whoring, etc. Until one night, he drunkenly agrees to a curricle race, and there’s an accident, and the other man dies. Bray promises the dying man that he’ll take care of Bray’s younger sisters, which includes marrying the eldest – though he only does so after the dying man begs a bit and the bystanders exert some peer pressure.
Fast forward to two years later. Bray has assumed the Dukedom, and has decided that it’s high time he set about producing an heir. So he finally goes to visit Miss Louisa Prim (yes, her name is Miss Prim, because names are very symbolic and important) (and if names are symbolic and important, then Bray is… a donkey? Who makes donkey noises? I digress) to inform her that he’ll marry her now, and she’s like, “nah, I’m good thanks.”
Bray’s response is basically:
Because this interaction happens about thirty pages in, for the rest of the book I kept picturing Bray as Barney Stinson from How I Met Your Mother, and it was scarily accurate to his characterization and also completely unsexy.
The rest of the plot is basically about them getting together, with a lot of side-machinations from various people who have wagered on the outcome – including the Prince Regent, who wagered the Elgin Marbles to the Archduke of Austria. Whoops.
A major shortcoming of this book, besides the terrible hero, is the uneven characterization of other characters, particularly of our heroine Louisa. Louisa feels responsible for her four younger sisters and treats them all like small children – even though the next eldest is only two years her junior, and is making her debut in society. Their relationship made no sense to me whatsoever. So Louisa is all world-weary and strict with her sisters, but also leaves her hair down like all the time, which seemed extremely out of character for such a prim and responsible young lady and was also very distracting because she was constantly pushing it behind her shoulders. Let’s not even talk about all of her conflicting emotions about Bray the Duke of Debauchery, or her supposedly clever remarks which were not even a little bit smart.
Speaking of uneven characterizations, there’s all this nonsense about Louisa’s chaperone, Mrs. Colthrust, which highlights how inconsistent all the characters are. The Duke is like: “She is not an appropriate chaperone for you.” But even though he’s been appointed the girls’ guardian (don’t ask, it’s complicated and makes no sense), he doesn’t replace her. Mrs. Colthrust herself is a bit grasping, and always gets the number of sisters wrong (I think it’s supposed to be humor?), and doesn’t mince words, but she also successfully introduces Louisa to the right people and generally gives her solid advice about the correct way to navigate society. So – what’s wrong with her?
Finally: let’s talk about the sex scenes between Louisa and Bray. The first time they kiss felt so gross and non-consensual that I just… couldn’t. What happens is: Bray tells Louisa that she has to slap him or he’ll kiss her. She tries to leave and he forcibly restrains her. She doesn’t slap him, so he blindfolds her and then kisses her senseless. She likes it, of course, but that doesn’t mean that she wanted it to happen. (There are also some questionable power dynamics in play when they consummate their relationship, particularly since they’re playing a game of will-we-or-won’t-we get married.)
Look, I like a good bodice-ripper, which means that if there’s rapey stuff going on, I can generally get past it. But The Duke in My Bed was written in 2015, and this is no bodice-ripper.
Reading this book brought home to me the irony of me being the one taking on The Duke Project, because our hero has many classic Duke trappings and I loathed him. Loathed. Him. He’s debauched and dissolute, but also has a weird personal honor code, and manages his properties properly. And had a sad and lonely childhood, with nary a family dinner in sight. All of this together… well, he’s arrogant and also utterly annoying. People who like Dukes *cough*Erin*cough* may say he’s self-assured and dominant, and may therefore more easily overlook the power dynamics in favor of the fantasy of a man taking control.
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