RITA Reader Challenge Review

RITA Reader Challenge: Never Desire a Duke by Lily Dalton


Title: Never Desire a Duke
Author: Lily Dalton
Publication Info: Forever September 2013
ISBN: 978-1455524013
Genre: Historical: European

Book Never Desire a Duke This RITA® Reader Challenge 2014 review was written by Beth K. This story was nominated for the RITA® in the Historical Romance category.

The summary:

A Marriage Beyond Hope

Lady Sophia has long been estranged from her husband, Lord Vane Barwick, the Marquess of Claxton, whose rumored list of amorous conquests includes almost every beautiful woman of the ton. Yet a shocking encounter with him in a crowded ballroom—and a single touch—are all it takes to reawaken her furious passion for him. But how can she trust the man who crushed her dreams and took away the one thing she wanted most?

A Love Beyond Reason

Lord Claxton has never forgiven himself for the youthful mistake that ruined his marriage to Lady Sophia. Now, after nearly a year abroad, the reformed rogue vows to win back the only woman he's ever truly loved. He'll do whatever it takes to prove he can be the honorable husband she deserves—and the passionate lover she desires. As the snowdrifts deepen outside their ancestral home, can they rekindle the flame that burned so bright and find a new path to forever?

And here is Beth K.'s review:

Never Desire a Duke starts with a glimpse only at the impetus for Sophia and Claxton’s strained marriage.  I never mind a prologue that throws us in to turmoil.  I’m then eager to discover the whozits and whatzits, ready to get to know my peeps.  Dalton does a great job introducing conflict and sympathy for both Sophia and Claxton in her prologue.  But before we truly get a chance to know either lead independent of the drama, we’re right back in the action.  This is not necessarily a detriment, as Dalton deftly handles character growth and plot twists hand in hand.  Sophia is hurt by Claxton’s (presumed) infidelity, Claxton is hurt by the ease with which Sophia turned her back on him, Sophia is hurt by his return without warning and still more (presumed) infidelity. Claxton’s hurt that Sophia spurns him at the ball.  So on and so forth. One wonders if the cycle, of confrontation and subsequent avoidance, would have continued indefinitely if not for the snow.    

There are a lot of miscommunications and misunderstandings at play in the early part of the novel, half a dozen before the second chapter concluded, and another mega-major snag in chapter three.  All of which would be a little distracting from the character development, if not for how well Dalton draws us into the leads’ frame of mind.  This really boils down to Claxton and Sophia both needing to trust in each other, and, of course, communicate past their pain and pride (because Claxton couldn’t keep it in his pants before marriage, and Sophia is hurt enough to keep a physical reminder of that behavior on her person, tsk).  They are well written, so we know why they feel or think what they do. They both act at different points from a need to protect themselves from future hurt, letting their resentments fester.  I frequently have the desire to play Miss Fix-It from my perfectly safe, omnipotent view as reader, so often when reading novels of this nature, I startle my husband by yelling, “Just TALK to each other!”  That being said, Dalton made me believe Sophia and Claxton’s motivations, and they do not act out of character.  

Claxton, Vane to his intimates, is sincere and earnest in his attempt to reclaim Sophia while appropriately self-flagellatory (without being whiny or edging into milquetoast) over his role in damaging their marriage.  Claxton starts out appealing and grows more so despite the obligatory secret, sympathy-wringing backstory (it’s a doozy, and effective).  Sophia is believable in her recovery from loss, and I felt humiliated and vexed along with her in reaction to her perception of Claxton’s behavior.  She’s neither harpy nor weak-willed, though she does struggle with the flight or fight response, and really drags her forgiveness out (I’m always harder on the heroine than hero). 

They both have self-awareness of their deficiencies.  Claxton and Sophia do communicate eventually, even if pride or lingering wounds prevent them from immediate reconciliation.  And though their communication may be stilted, their dialogue is not.  I did want to scream a bit early on for Sophia not forgiving Claxton a mite sooner, and then for Claxton acting the wanker, causing Sophia to get hurt again, etc.  Yes, Desire has a few too many hiccups, but the characters have depth, and Dalton demonstrates it through their actions.  [As an aside, there are few things I like less in novels than an author who straight-up lists their characters’ qualities, telling us how great they are, but never demonstrating, so yay for Dalton].    

Even the minor characters have dimension; I particularly liked the early flirtation between Sir Keyes and the Dowager.  Wolverton rocks the protective-grandfather role.  The Kettles were warm on the page.  And I did not like Annabelle or Haden, the selfish twats, but they were true-to-form throughout.  I was pleased that Dalton didn’t over-dwell on descriptors for the setting and fashion as some Regency authors do.  There is a rich enough world to enhance the storyline without overwhelming it.  The secondary conflict involving Meltonbourne gets a little too farcical. 

Overall, Never Desire a Duke didn’t get Dalton on to my auto-buy list (because I am picky), but was interesting enough that I will read her other titles in the series, Never Entice an Earl and Never Surrender to a Scoundrel.

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Comments are Closed

  1. 1
    Reve J says:

    I volunteered to review this book last week, and I am so glad you did it.  I hated this book, and it was really upsetting to force myself to keep reading and analyzing what I hated about it.  The book is well-written, and I think there are just several elements that are anti-cat-nip for me.  I wasn’t sure how to honestly convey my impression without ruining it for people with different interests.

  2. 2
    Beth K. says:

    I’d never reviewed before, other than in my head, but I’d often thought about the way to construct a grade.  I can’t possibly rate books compared to all other books or else few would see A and B status, so I try to rate them based on the book’s potential.  I totally know what you mean about agonizing anti-catnip story lines, though.  I am fundamentally opposed to not finishing, so I have slogged through many Ds and Fs, and a few that should get Gs.  I had actually read this a week prior to seeing it on the list (purchased because of a low e-book price), so I re-read/skimmed to refresh some of the finer points.  I think reading it with the review in mind made me actually like it more.  It made me more fair in considering Sophia, who even by today’s standards would have had difficulty dismissing Claxton’s prior amours (I don’t truck with slut shaming, but Claxton got around).  In that era, as many names as he put on that list likely comprised a huge segment of the total aristocratic population, meaning most of who she’d see at parties.  My biggest reminder to myself is that it isn’t about what I’d do, but if the actions are in line with the character (I am not a forgiving person, really.  If that helps anyone understand the grade I gave :)

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