Heat Factor: Each novella has at least two sex scenes, but I don’t think the stories quite cross the line into erotic romance. Bonus points for lots of explicit consent.
Character Chemistry: Sizzling. In every story.
Plot: Woman propositions Duke. Duke agrees to sexytimes. “But we can’t have anything more.” Everyone wants more.
Overall: Sexy and fun
This was a very even anthology. Every story is well-executed. There are no pacing issues. All of the sex is decently sexy and the character chemistry is off the charts. And the tagline is: “He has big duke energy.”
I recommend this book for people who want a whole bunch of novellas about dukes having sexy rumpuses. Of course I liked some of the stories better than others, but this is more a case of personal preference than specific shortcomings in any of the stories.
Now that my overview is out of the way, I’ll give a couple of topline notes on each story (including which ones I liked more than others). And then I’ll talk about Dukes a bit.
“The Chasing of Eleanor Vane” – Sierra Simone
A May-December Stealing the Fiancée story with a very brooding Duke.
I was all about this story until the secret sex society with hereditary membership. I didn’t think it added much to the story and the hereditary aspect (though necessary for plot reasons) kind of squicked me out. But the early scenes where Eleanor falls fast and hard for her fiancé’s uncle and his cruel mouth are really excellent.
“Duke for Hire” – Nicola Davidson
Spinster vicar’s daughter doesn’t want to die a virgin, so she hires a local Duke to bone her for her 30th birthday.
This story was my favorite, mainly because it was funny. No need to be brooding *all* the time, even if you are a Duke! Bonus points for historically accurate sex toys.
“An Education in Pleasure” – Eva Leigh
Family Governess gives young Duke sex lessons.
My least favorite story. This Duke has a really overdeveloped sense of responsibility and is scared about exerting his power over others. Yes, more men should be like this in real life, but when I read a guy like this in a romance, my eyes start rolling.
“The Duke Makes Me Feel…” – Adriana Herrera
Duke and Apothecary travel to Paris together to find Duke’s long-lost sister.
This is the story that most left me wanting more. The relationship dynamic was complicated (not just power and class but also race come into the mix here), so their relationship sometimes felt rushed. There was definitely enough here for a full-length novel. But maybe this is just because Marena is such a great heroine and because I’m a sucker for road-trip stories and because Paris is so stinking romantic and not used in enough historical romance.
“My Dirty Duke” – Joanna Shupe
Young Woman Seduces Dad’s Best Friend.
Look, nothing about this description appeals to me and I loved this story. Shupe just really sold it. Maybe because Violet was so young but I never felt that she was in over her head. I could shake my head at her terrible decision-making, but still cheer for her as this jaded old man (with a teenage son) was utterly charmed.
Let’s talk about dukes, baby…
So when we first started The Smut Report (3 years ago, what?!?!?), I was like, I’m going to do a deep dive into dukes and why they are everywhere and write a whole series of pieces. I didn’t get very far though, because, on the whole, duke books are boooooooring. And while I enjoyed this anthology immensely, I did think that the dukes were, on the whole, boooooooooring. (Luckily the heroines and the sex and the skilled writing made up for it.)
In this anthology, every single duke is a perfect specimen of manhood of a very specific type. He has dark hair. He is tall. He has broad shoulders. He is the darkest and the tallest and the broadest and the handsomest. With the exception of Baby Duke in Leigh’s story, every duke is between the ages of 35 and 45.
Basically, they are all this guy:
Given that our heroines span a much wider range of age and size and coloring and even class and race, why is the vision of what a duke is so narrow? I get that romance heroes are supposed to be desirable, but human desire is so much broader than tall, dark, and handsome. If you must stick to dukes, why not write a book about a duke like this one?
He is a ginger. He has muttonchops. And he’s Scottish.
But I digress.
Even if an individual duke might have something interesting about him – a cruel mouth, an overdeveloped sense of responsibility, a willingness to use sex toys – this quirk is overshadowed by how much he resembles every other duke. And reading five novellas in quick succession – no matter how pleasurable the anthology was as a whole – really brought their sameness into high relief.
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