Never Deceive a Duke, by Liz Carlyle

>> Tuesday, February 19, 2008

TITLE: Never Deceive a Duke
AUTHOR: Liz Carlyle

PAGES: 397

SETTING: Victorian England
TYPE: Straight Romance
SERIES: Second in the Neville trilogy. Follows Never Lie To A Lady.

REASON FOR READING: Carlyle's been on my autobuy list since her debut, My False Heart.

They call her the porcelain princess...

With her fragile beauty and regal bearing, the Duchess of Warneham knows how to keep her admirers at a distance. Twice wed and twice widowed, Antonia has vowed never again to marry; never again to surrender her freedom. But when her husband's death is deemed suspicious, and his long-lost heir returns to seize control of the dukedom, she finds that fate has placed her future in yet another man's hands -- but not just any man.

They call him a cold-hearted bastard...

Deep in London's docklands, Gareth Lloyd runs Neville Shipping with an iron fist. Unrecognizable as the starving orphan who was abandoned by his family and sent an ocean away from home, Gareth has put his troubled past behind him. That is, until the Duke of Warneham is murdered, and Gareth turns out to be the dynasty's last living heir. Wrenched from his solitude, Gareth neither wants nor needs the honors and obligations of nobility -- especially the Duke's all-too-tempting widow.... Or does he?
THE PLOT: Gareth Lloyd is a self-made man, a partner in a succesful shipping company. He never though he'd inherit the title from his relative, the Duke of Warneham. In fact, after the brutal way in which he was treated by him as a young boy, he would never have wanted to have anything to do with it. But Gareth's the only heir left when the old man dies, and so he needs to take up his responsibilities, both to the duchy and to the Dowager Duchess, of whom he has nothing but bad memories.

It turns out, however, that the Dowager Duchess isn't the old woman he remembers, but the Duke's latest wife, Antonia. The young and fragile Antonia was the old man's last try to keep Gareth from getting the title, by having another heir that might displace him, and Gareth is inexplicable drawn to her, even as he suspects there might be some truth to the suspicions that she might not be exactly in her right mind.

MY THOUGHTS: I did like the first full-length entry in this series, but I didn't find it as absorbing as I usually find Carlyle's books. But with NDAD, she's back. While there were certain things about Gareth and Antonia's relationship that gave me some pause, I couldn't stop reading.

This is probably Carlyle's angstiest book to date. Talk about tortured characters! It was clear from the first moment we met Gareth in the first book that this was one man with Issues, but the extent of them was surprising to me. I'm not going to reveal them here, because you get the full emotional impact by seeing them unfold throughout the book, but suffice it to say that some of the flashback scenes which open each chapter had me in tears.

Unfortunately, this is all so huge that it kind of overwhelms something else that I found fascinating: Gareth's coming to terms with his Jewish heritage. Not only does he have to deal with people's reactions to it (including servants who have a huge problem working for "someone like him"), but there was a very interesting duality in him about who he was, something exacerbated by his upbringing. Wonderful stuff, and I wish we'd got more of it.

Antonia isn't quite as well drawn as Gareth, but she gives him a run for his money in the tortured department. I'm not usually much of a fan of the vulnerable, fragile waif heroine, but I couldn't help but feel Antonia's pain, and feel happy when she found what she so clearly needed in Gareth.

And here we come to the element in their romance that caused me some qualms: the need. For these two, being together isn't just something that makes their lives better, it's what changes their lives from misery to happiness and contentment. They need each other. Antonia needs to lean on Gareth and Gareth needs Antonia to lean on him. And when I say need, I mean need. Being together keeps them sane. A bit unhealthy, you might say (and I would agree), but then, after what happened in their lives, I can't expect them to to be healthy people, especially before the age of counselling and therapy. In the end, I was just happy that they found a relationship that worked for them, and seeing them do so was immensely satisfying.



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