Isle of Synne, Book 1
Heat Factor: Blip on the radar
Character Chemistry: I am not buying what they’re selling
Plot: She’s for sale to the highest bidder for her father’s social advancement. He’s only interested in revenge.
Overall: It must be me, because people seem to really like this book, but I just cannot
Have you ever had an acquaintance for whom you held an irrational dislike but all your friends think the same acquaintance is SO NICE?
That’s me with this book. Everywhere, I see people so excited about how charming and lovely A Good Duke is Hard to Find is. It got a starred review from Publisher’s Weekly. Every time I texted Holly and Ingrid, annoyed about something, I was informed that I was probably being just a wee bit unreasonable. I acknowledge all of this. But I honestly could not open the book without gritting my teeth. (Why didn’t I DNF it, you ask? I am, at times, stubborn to a fault.)
We (the book and I) just really got off on the wrong foot. You see, there are some aspects of this story (many aspects of this story) that I find tired. Now, I’ve consumed upwards of 200 romance novels in 6 months, and I have been reading a lot of smut since my teens, so I suppose I’m more likely to be tired than an average reader. If you’re a 40-60 book/year reader, you will probably also find this book charming. The writing is technically very nice. Lovely word choice and text construction. There must be something wrong with me!
For the sake of argument, I will try to dissect my issues. These few things from the early chapters are what started me on the path of dislike.
- Lenora, our wallowing heroine, has been engaging in self-indulgent guilt since her first fiance died because she killed him because she didn’t love him enough. (He died in an accident.) She doesn’t deserve happiness!
2. Peter, our grumpy hero, is never going to get married or have children because he’s been seeking revenge against the duke “responsible for his mother’s death” (true? not true? IDK, doesn’t matter) since he was thirteen, and as the heir, twisting up his own life is the best way to get that revenge.
3. Peter and Lenora keep exchanging confidences that they never share with anyone else because … I’m honestly not sure why. They start doing it before they actually have an emotional connection. Honestly, it just starts because Lenora’s being nice and asking a question. (But it’s so meaningful!)
The other aspect of this story that frustrated me was that common generic scenes were deployed, and I felt that they were exclusively present to create specific opportunities for the protagonists to engage with each other. Which is a ridiculous thing to think, because that’s, like, how every book works. In this case, I think my beef was that I felt that the scenes were created to throw the protagonists together, but other avenues to the same end result that might occur more naturally (except that they didn’t throw the protagonists together) were not addressed. To me, the progression didn’t feel natural and organic, it felt like, “OH! OF COURSE that’s what we’re doing right now. Because how else can we possibly show that these two are connecting?”
Take, for example, the dancing lesson:
Lady Tesh has bargained with Peter to the tune of dinner parties and dances. Does Lady Tesh consider whether or not Peter can dance? Apparently not, until she is actually with him at the ball. Peter is also staying at Lady Tesh’s residence with his best friend of 13-ish years. Peter’s friend knows that they are attending dinner parties and dances. Does he talk to Peter about being able to dance? Don’t be ridiculous! He doesn’t care in the least about Peter’s ability to dance until he’s given the opportunity to speculate about where Peter learned to dance at the ball.
No, no! The only person who gives the least thought to whether or not Peter knows how to dance is, of course, Lenora, who surreptitiously ascertains Peter’s ability and offers to teach him after hours. Oh la la! And so, three days before the ball, under the cover of darkness, Peter and Lenora meet. And she teaches him three dances in two hours. That’s it. And he dances without grace but also without making any mistakes at the ball after one two-hour lesson, during which time the only music was Lenora humming, and there were no other couples to form the squares.
And if anyone else had given any consideration to Peter’s dancing–even if he’d said he was hiding his lack of skill from his best friend!–I wouldn’t have cared. But as it was, I felt that the only reason the whole thing was present was to get the characters from A to B, and it felt contrived. Also this is their opportunity for a first kiss because of course it is. Why else would there need to be a scene where they’re dancing in the dark?
I could delve deeper into every “WTF is even going on right now?” moment that I experienced, but that would be a waste of my time and yours. Suffice it to say that the dancing interlude was not the only time I asked the question, “But WHY tho?”
Bullet points for your further consideration, to save us all some time:
- I’m not convinced Lenora and Peter really know each other at all. They spend most of the book refusing to communicate about the things that are actually important to their relationship. AND THEN PETER PROPOSES BECAUSE WHY WOULDN’T YOU ASK SOMEONE TO MARRY YOU AFTER REFUSING TO TALK TO HER FOR 11 CHAPTERS?
- The secondary characters are only developed and present insofar as they are needed to advance the plot/hover/scold.
- These characters make truly incredible leaps of logic and understanding.
- Given the choice between being an asshole or not being an asshole, Peter chooses asshole nearly every time.
- Lenora’s best friend treats her like a child. It was unappealing in the extreme. Don’t check a grown woman’s temperature and then say with surprise, “You feel fine!” when she’s already said she’s fine.
- Meddling matchmakers who concoct schemes that result in public scenes are not cute. That’s totally crappy behavior. Yeah, yeah, it’s all meaningful that Lenora isn’t worried about appearances anymore, but there is no reason that anybody, including all the bystanders, need to be subjected to a public discussion of what is, at its core, a private reconciliation.
- Peter thinks Lenora “could chase away the demons, bring a peace and contentment into his life he would never have dreamed possible just a week ago.” And I have concerns about love as a happiness cure when people are unwilling to do the heavy internal lifting, because other people can contribute to one’s happiness, but at the end of the day, all that happiness and contentment is sourced internally.
Am I unreasonable? Sure, fine. I’ll take it. Every book doesn’t have to be for everybody. This one apparently wasn’t for me, but if you aren’t exhausted by an overabundance of tropes that reinforce generic verisimilitude seven ways to Sunday, you might really enjoy this book.
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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