Dukes Prefer Blondes, by Loretta Chase

>> Sunday, September 03, 2017

TITLE: Dukes Prefer Blondes
AUTHOR: Loretta Chase

PAGES: 372

SETTING: 1830s England
TYPE: Romance
SERIES: Part of the Dressmakers series (a bit of a spinoff of it).

Biweekly marriage proposals from men who can't see beyond her (admittedly breathtaking) looks are starting to get on Lady Clara Fairfax's nerves. Desperate to be something more than ornamental, she escapes to her favorite charity. When a child is in trouble, she turns to tall, dark, and annoying barrister Oliver Radford.

Though he's unexpectedly found himself in line to inherit a dukedom, Radford's never been part of fashionable society, and the blonde beauty, though not entirely bereft of brains, isn't part of his plans. But Clara overwhelms even his infallible logic, and when wedlock looms, all he can do is try not to lose his head over her . . .

It's an inconvenient marriage by ordinary standards, but these two are far from ordinary. Can the ton's most adored heiress and London's most difficult bachelor fall victim to their own unruly desires?
Loretta Chase has written some of my favourite books (I'm in the "Lord of Scoundrels is the best romance novel ever" camp), but in the last few years, she's become a bit hit or miss for me. I liked the first book in this series, but Chase does seem to have gone on the typical Avon preposterous, historically laughable, punnily-titled books route. I have to be in exactly the right mood to be able to stomach those, and even then, they don't always work for me. This one had elements that I really liked, but a bit too much that I didn't.

Lady Clara Fairfax is a woman dissatisfied with her life. She comes from a rich, aristocratic family and is incredibly beautiful (not to mention well-dressed, as the Noirot sisters have taken her under their wing), so she receives several wedding proposals a week. However, she feels trapped in the life expected for her. She wants to do something meaningful, and she's latched onto the idea of helping one of the girls attending a charity school she patronises. The girl's brother has been lured into a dangerous gang, and Clara is determined to rescue him.

To do that, she appeals to Oliver Radford, a barrister known for prosecuting cases protecting street children. He's an extremely intelligent man, known for not suffering fools gladly and making that obvious to anyone around him. He knows he should ignore Clara's request, but he can't quite ignore her. It's not that she's beautiful enough to make him dizzy, but that she clearly does have a very well-functioning brain.

The one thing I really liked about this book was the relationship between Clara and Oliver. These are two people who see each other very clearly and love what they see. They banter and quarrel, but both give as good as they get. It was actually loads of fun to see them spar. I also loved that Oliver really does get Clara's dissatisfaction with the restricted life of a noblewoman, and supports her in her desire to break out of it. There are a couple of instances where his protective instincts overrule what he knows is right in that respect, but as soon as he can think straight he's willing to admit he was wrong.

The problem was pretty much everything else outside of the romance. And unfortunately, Chase doesn't really do as much with Clara and Oliver as she could (e.g. I enjoyed the idea of the trial, when basically Oliver puts himself on trial before Clara's parents to defend himself against their "charges", the reasons why they don't think he's a good prospect for their daughter. But that is dispensed with in just a couple of pages). That means there is a lot of other stuff. And this stuff goes from pointless and boring to offensive, sometimes all three.

There is a truly tedious and preposterous plot about this guy who's head of a criminal gang who wants to kill Oliver. I'm really not quite sure why he's so obsessed with that idea, particularly as it's a very good way of getting all the police after him, but we're supposed to accept this. So we get a lot of this guy and his young minions plotting to get Oliver and how they're going to use Clara to get at him. None of it made much sense, and there was something about the tone in which this plot is told that felt really distasteful. It's this arch, snarky tone, trying but failing to be funny, because it's clearly showing the ways these people's lives are horrible. I hated every sentence of this plot thread, and unfortunately, this crap takes over the entire last fifth or so of the book. I was very tempted to skim.

There's also a subplot about Oliver's father unexpectedly inheriting a dukedom, and Clara having to help them cope. She's been basically trained to be a duchess, so she's supposedly in her element, organising their household and their new social position. It was boring, and I resented the fact that this had happened at all. The message is that being the wife of a relatively prosperous barrister is not good enough to be a happy ending for a romance heroine, that it's not a happy ending if there isn't a title involved. Sigh.



Marianne McA,  5 September 2017 at 10:43  

Someday I shall reread 'Lord of Scoundrels' - I disliked it, and I keep wondering if I just read it at the wrong moment.
'Lord Perfect', however, was almost perfect for me, and I'm also very fond of 'Last Night's Scandal'.

I couldn't remember much about this before reading your review, but once you mentioned the plot to kill Oliver, I immediately remembered that it just beggared belief. The romance in itself was fun - but it's not a book I'd reread. (I don't think I liked any of the Dressmakers series enough to reread - I mostly remember them for the descriptions of the fabulous clothes.)

Rosario 8 September 2017 at 06:40  

I did love Lord Perfect as well (and Miss Wonderful, and Mr Impossible... that whole series was great). The Dressmakers series has been disappointing. I've loved Chase enough that I'll keep reading her, hoping for a proper return to form, but it's possible her best books are behind her now :(

Susan/DC,  8 September 2017 at 19:05  

I beg to respectfully differ. I loved the banter between Radford and Clara and how she turns his patronizing statements against him. You are right that the plot is a bit overstuffed, but I was having so much fun watching these two interact that I did not care. Is it my favorite Chase? No, but I did enjoy it.

Rosario 9 September 2017 at 09:11  

Susan: Oh, but I do agree completely about the relationship between Radford and Clara. I guess all the other stuff bothered me a lot more than it did you :)

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