Duke of Sin, by Adele Ashworth

>> Tuesday, February 08, 2005

Adele Ashworth's Winter Garden is one of my favourite romance novels ever, it even came in in the top 5 (or thereabouts, I don't have the list with me right now) in my Top 100 list. Unfortunately, her books since that one have been disappointed, but rumour had it Duke of Sin (excerpt) was a return to Winter Garden levels.

A scandalous liaison with a mysterious, disreputable rogue may be the only way the desperate lady can guard her shocking secret…

He is called "Duke of Sin" …a notorious rogue and recluse whose reputation is as black as the Cornish night. They speak of his conquests, his past, and his mysteries in breathless whispers. And now lovely and desperate Vivian Rael-Lamont has no choice but to enter William Raleigh's lair.

Vivian prayed that the scandal that drove her from London would never be revealed — but now she will be exposed to the world… unless William can protect her. She has heard the rumors about the infamous Duke of Sin, yet she is unprepared for the man's raw, sensuous power… or for the traitorous response of her own body. Surrender, however, could prove most dangerous indeed — for both of them. For while the duke is intrigued by the guarded, intoxicating lady who has invaded his solitude — and fully intends to discern her every secret through sweet, unhurried seduction — it is his own heart that will be imperiled when passion takes them farther than he ever intended.
While Duke of Sin was a definite improvement, I'm afraid it was also a little disappointing. I'd grade it a B, a good grade, but I was expecting something much, much better.

I liked both characters, and enjoyed most of their relationship. I especially liked Will, a reclusive man whose mistreatment and isolation by society hasn't made bitter. I loved how he really needed Vivian, not just on a sexual level, but for companionship. Vivian I liked, too. I enjoyed reading about characters who were more mature and sensible than usual.

My problems came with the accumulation of details that kept the story from ringing true. It was all details which wouldn't have mattered much on their own, but together, the effect was noticeable. I'm talking about things like the ease with which Will's penniless in-laws were able to get a well-connected and generally well-liked, powerful duke accused of a murder for which there wasn't the slightest proof. Or of how impossible it was for Vivian to get an annulment. I mean, her word against her husband's that he wasn't able to consumate the marriage? Not quite, aren't we forgetting Vivian's virginity? That's quite easily confirmable. Then there was the introduction of Will's two best friends, who were totally unnecesary to the story and whose inclusion smacked of setting up the next stories in the series. And the suspense subplot also felt flimsy and improbable.

So, in the end, what we had here was couple of likeable protagonists falling in love against a truly mediocre backdrop. The romance is always the most important thing to me, but really, I had a hard time not getting distracted by all the other flaws. Plus, I wasn't too crazy about the ending of the romance itself, with a certain late revelation. It was just unnecessary and, like Vivian's virginity, felt like something not integral to the story but calculated to keep from offending rigid readers.


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