Devil You Know, Book 1
Heat Factor: There is a stupendous amount of very detailed foreplay
Character Chemistry: Their chemistry carries the book
Plot: Overcoming sexual trauma, with a heavy side of blackmail and death threats
Overall: The relationship is great, but the rest didn’t quite work for me
Let’s start with the opening, because the Prologue is really intense – and was completely unexpected, given the book blurb, which made How to Love a Duke in Ten Days seem like a nice light-hearted romance. Sure, there’s some blackmail mentioned, but there are plenty of light-hearted romances with blackmail. Right? I’m sure there must be. Anyways.
So the book opens with our heroine, Lady Alexandra Lane, away at boarding school. Where she is raped by the headmaster. In the heat of the moment, she kills him with a straight razor and disposes of the body with the help of her two best friends. Her friends reveal deep dark secrets, so now the three of them are bound by blood and secrecy and a pact never to marry. I told you the opening was intense. (Squeamish readers may want to consider skipping the prologue.)
Fast forward to ten years later. Alexandra is heading to the castle of some duke who is engaged to one of her friends. For various reasons (she needs money, someone is blackmailing her about the murder and she wants the protection of his ducal name, the duke and her friend would make each other absolutely miserable), she proposes that she marry the duke instead. Even though she is terrified of men, especially of being alone with them, and even more especially of the thought of having sexual intercourse with one.
The duke, however, is special. Piers excites Alexandra in a way that she doesn’t completely understand. Which one might find confusing because Piers is the quintessential example of The Devil Duke. He’s known as the Terror of Torcliff (of course). He is enormous (of course). The villagers whisper than maybe he was attacked by a werewolf, because he has disfiguring scars all over his face. (Actually, it was a panther.) He is gruff and foreboding and everyone is afraid of him, and he’s getting married purely out of revenge on the Woman Who Wronged Him (of course). It’s so over the top, we have comedy gold here – and Byrne leans into the comedy in writing Piers’ inner thoughts. However, despite all the dangerous alpha vibes that he absolutely exudes, he is all about Alexandra taking the lead in their relationship. Plus, animals like him, so he can’t actually be that bad.
So they get married, and the twin plots start to unfold. There’s the question of how they will negotiate the consummation of their marriage and the question of who is trying to kill them.
The relationship portion of the book is really well done. Alexandra was severely traumatized by her rape, so she wants to ensure that her sexual interactions with her husband won’t remind her of that experience. And Piers goes with it, in a great example of an alpha male who makes sure that he has consent – but also keeps things sexy. So their physical relationship builds slowly, though not in a “slow burn, yearning but not touching” kind of way; it’s more of a “let’s do a lot of foreplay until you’re ready for penetration” dynamic. Their interactions strike a nice balance between seriousness and humor, in a way that felt real. Admittedly, there is a stupid thing where Piers finds out that Alexandra isn’t a virgin and gets all annoying about it, but I guess if that didn’t happen he would be too much of a paragon, so at least this gives him something to apologize for.
On the other hand, I found the mystery plot tedious. Every time Alexandra started angsting about her blackmailer, or thinking about her two besties and how she has to protect them, or worrying that Piers could accidentally get hurt when she’s the real target for all the accidents that kept happening, I started reading faster and hoping that we could get back to Alexandra and Piers spending time together. The balance in tone between seriousness and humor also worked less well here because the seriousness sometimes veered towards melodrama and the moments of levity seemed out of place.
Despite the problems I had with the book, I still think How to Love a Duke in Ten Days is worth a read because of the really thoughtful portrayal of one way a survivor of sexual assault might approach relationships.
I voluntarily read and reviewed a complimentary copy of this book. All thoughts and opinions are my own. We disclose this in accordance with 16 CFR §255.
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