Book Review

The Naked Duke by Sally MacKenzie

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Title: The Naked Duke
Author: Sally MacKenzie
Publication Info: Zebra 2005
ISBN: 0821778315
Genre: Historical: European

A brief warning: Yes, I will cram as many ways to say “naked duke” into this review as humanly possible. As with anything else disagreeable that involves cramming, the experience will be much more pleasant if you just lay back, relax and resign yourself to your fate—it will make things much easier on you if you do. Trust Dr. Candy, and though it might feel a little cold and sting at first, it’ll be over soon.

I blogged at painful and pointless length about buying this book, about how the title simultaneously horrified yet fascinated me, and the agonies of embarrassment I experienced when the cute checkout guy noted that I apparently really, really dug reading about aristos aux naturels. But I thought hey, if the book was a good read, the ignominy of being smirked at by a cute cash register clerk would’ve been worth it.

Well, ladies (and the stray gentleman who came here after Googling for “hot creampie bitches”): The book wasn’t worth it. In fact, one word sums this book up, and that word is GAH.

It actually starts off quite well, with a rather lively writing style. At her father’s deathbed, Sarah Hamilton, our republican heroine (if I had a shot of alcohol every time the word “republican” was used in this book, I’d be dead from anaphylactic shock before page 90) promises to go to England to seek her uncle, the Earl of Westbrooke. Due to a series of unfortunate events, however, she loses her luggage and much of her money. On the eve of her arrival at the Westbrooke estate, she finds herself stuck at an inn and mistaken for a prostitute. She’s promptly hustled into a bedroom that she erroneously assumes is hers, where she undresses (no nightrail because of her lost luggage, so isn’t that terribly convenient?) and promptly falls asleep.

James Runyon, Duke of Alvord, like Galahad of old, is the flower of British manhood: pure and clean and virtuous. Also naked, but unlike the title suggests, he doesn’t spend much of his time in the book in the altogether. However, like many romance novel heroes, he suffers from hypertrophic penile dysfunction once he takes a gander at the beautimous, completely bare republican snoozing in his bed, and the condition persists for much of the book.* (Hey, have I mentioned how often Sarah is called a republican in this book? I have? The repetition is tiresome, isn’t it? I mean, I’ve made my point, why belabor it, right? Don’t you want me to shut up about this already? GOOD. This gives you an idea of how annoying this book becomes as it progresses.)

So where was I before the Spring Snark Attack dragged the last paragraph under? Oh yes, James. He sees a naked, pretty lady in his bed and tries to rouse her because really, he’s not into prostitutes, though he appreciates his best friend Robbie’s efforts to help him get laid. However, Sarah is so exhausted she doesn’t even so much as twitch, the poor lambie. So our Duke of Much Bareassedness, being pretty tired himself, hops into bed next to her, but like a true gentleman, doesn’t ravish her in her sleep despite his manfully turgid state.

Oh, the massive brouhaha when they wake up in the morning with the nekkidness and the virginal trembling and the outrage and the pillow tossing and the misunderstandings and mm-hey the glavin. (By the way, unlike tossing a salad, I don’t think there’s a prurient definition attached to tossing pillows—yet. Please feel free to suggest definitions in the comments. I’d love to come home tonight and huskily tell my husband to “toss my pillows, bitch.”)

Once everything is sorted out and everyone and his (clothed) uncle come to check what the ruckus is about, James finds out the woman is not a dirrrty hoooor. She is, in fact, his best friend Robbie’s American (no, wait, republican) cousin. And Sarah is horrified to find out that her uncle died a year before. The man responsible for mistaking her for a prostitute and getting her in this mess in the first place is now her closest relative.

James, personally, is delighted at the turn of events because he has this BATSHIT FUCKING INSANE cousin who’s been trying to kill him, and he wants to get married and pop out sons as fast as possible. Sarah is beautiful, she’s his best friend’s cousin, she smells real purty, and he has very publicly ruined her, so hey, why not?

Sarah isn’t so thrilled and flatly refuses to marry James. She doesn’t want to marry a rake. But specifically, Sarah equates bad marriages and profligacy with the English ton and loving, happy marriages with being American. This borderline xenophobic fear of the English and her veneration of Americans as the models for all marital virtues makes me wonder what version of America she lived in. I mean, wasn’t there an extremely public scandal involving a certain Founding Father boinking someone else’s wife, then being forced into confessing it publicly? And I also seem to remember reading about another Founding Father facing widespread allegations of having a taste for the badonka-donk when he was serving his first term as president.

Anyway, this “no rakes for me” nonsense started to grate on me. He’s nice to her, he’s handsome, he kisses well, he smells good, he’s beyond patient with her, he treats her like a queen, and she keeps on assuming he’s a master cockmongerer without actually telling him her actual fears. And that’s another problem with the book: I have no freaking clue how or why these two fall in love since they don’t spend a lot of time alone with each other, and when they do, they don’t talk very much. James usually latches onto her ta-tas, which of course causes her knees to weaken, and hey presto, they’re making out like horny little weasels. When they do talk, the book is almost schizophrenic in tone. For instance, James can’t bear to say the word “whore” in front of Sarah, yet earlier in the book they engage in an excruciatingly detailed conversation about prostitution without so much as twitching an eyebrow. And of course clamping onto her nipples like a drowning man grabbing at a straw is perfectly acceptable. Seeing the two of them interact more often than not made me go “What the fuck?”

There’s a suspense side-plot of sorts involving Richard Runyon, James’s cousin and next in line to inherit the title. Richard wants to be the duke, and he’ll stoop at nothing to get it. And make no mistake, he could not be more villainous short of planting a giant red neon sign on his head that says “PSYCHOTIC VILLAIN HERE” with a blinky arrow that points down, and maybe cueing Darth Vader’s theme every time he walks onto a scene. Allow me to bust out a little bulleted list.

  • He’s bisexual, and as y’all know, all you need to do to make a romance novel villain Super Evil++ is to have him be a Connoisseur of Cock.
  • He rapes women.
  • He kills with little to no provocation.
  • He’s sadistic.
  • This one is actually pretty funny: When Richard is enraged, he starts breaking shit. Throughout the book, he tosses and flings aside glasses, dishes, cream pots and teapots with great zest and abandon. No wonder he wants to succeed to the title and fortune so badly; replacing all the china and breakable tchotchkes he’s thrown about in a blind rage—and he’s in a blind rage A LOT—has to cost a mint.

 

Worst of all, the author never really bothers explaining why Richard is so insane. No, wait, actually she kind of does. It’s spoiler-ish, though, so you know what to do. Brace yourself, it’s a really, really stupid reason.

Apparently Richard’s this way because his dad spanked him when he was four years old for being mean to James. No, I’m not kidding. I wish I was. That’s all the motivation the reader is provided for Richard’s batshittiness. GAAAH.

The book also contains a very amateurish mistake near the end of the book, but this isn’t just the author’s fault because the editors should’ve caught it, too. One moment James and Sarah are engaged and the announcement is in the papers (causing Richard fly into a passion and fling yet another piece of china at his hapless lover’s head), the next moment they’re getting married and nobody in the book has any idea they were engaged in the first place. Not only that, but an event that took place over 100 pages before and several weeks ago is also referenced as having taken place just the previous night. Whoever the copy editor is for this book, she needs to be deprived of cookies until she learns to do her job properly. Bad copy editor, no sweeties for you! *slaps wrist*

Despite the multitude of problems—a plot that doesn’t make much sense, the silliest villain I’ve ever encountered, a heroine who’s an annoying prig, a hero who’s nice enough but is pretty much unremarkable, and for the bonus round, a big honkin’ continuity mistake—the book was surprisingly readable. The tone swings wildly from Regency England (“making micefeet of things”) to twentieth-century American (”Okay, sweetheart”), but given the other problems, this actually didn’t bother me too much. There were spots though, such as the very beginning of the book, that had a pleasant liveliness to it, and those few spots were what saved this book from the Dreaded F.

*A side note: Romance novel heroes really need to learn to masturbate instead of walking around with a persistent hard-on all through the book. Really, it’s not that hard. *pause, snicker* OK, it IS hard, but if you take matters in your own hands and give the matters a little rub-a-dub-dub, it takes care of things quite nicely and the hardness subsides. See? Congratulations, you’re now a 28-year-old who has finally learned to master his domain, something most males figure out by the time they’re 13.

Comments are Closed

  1. 1
    white raven says:

    OMG, that has to be one of the funniest damn reviews I’ve ever read.  Right up there with Mark Twain’s butchering of The Leather Stocking Tales. 

    One day you must review a short erotica I currently have published.  I’m begging you.  I’ll perform sexual favors.  You name it, cause I want one of THESE reviews!

    Gawd, I’d love to see you cut a swathe through the fanfiction world.  I’d volunteer my stuff as first sacrifice in a heartbeat.

    *Fangirls you*

  2. 2
    Rosario says:

    Are you crazy, woman? How dare you suggest a hero should masturbate? Don’t you know it somehow degrades what he feels for the heroine? Just go read Liz Carlyle’s No True Gentleman -otherwise a wonderful book, but that part… ugh!

  3. 3
    Sarah says:

    I will admit, there is a moment in “To Sir Phillip, With Love,” by Julia Quinn, where the unsatisfied-for-decades hero goes into the washroom to finish himself off, and I was so surprised I almost fell out of the hammock I was in. I remember very clearly thinking, ‘Julia! MY GOODNESS! Your hero is WANKING!’

    But really, it’s far more likely that they did choke the chicken than not!

  4. 4
    Cece says:

    Do I dare post my toss your pillows suggestions here?  I’ll probably get shot.
    Slapping of the Buttocks or
    Rough manipulation of the breasts…depending on how large either body part is since pillows are usually …fluffy ;)
    Possibly even a coy way of suggesting you prepare to …ahem…get it doggy style.

  5. 5
    Candy says:

    White Raven: We will be more than happy to jack o…errr, review your erotica—if you’ll tell us what sexual act you think “tossing pillows” should refer to.

    Rosario: I’ve read two Liz Carlyle books, though not No True Gentlemen. I couldn’t stand either one of them. Anyway, not sure HOW a man beating off degrades the woman he loves—unless he slaps her in the face with his dick while he’s doing it? But hey, what if she LIKES that kind of thing? I dunno.

  6. 6
    Candy says:

    Cece: The first act I pictured when I thought of “tossing pillows” was smooshing the breasts together and then rubbing one’s face back-and-forth rapidly while making that razzberry-like “BRRRRR” sound with one’s lips. Not particularly sexy, but there’s no specific name for that particular act that I know of.

    I have another suggestion that’s a great deal more filthy, but I’ll have to wait and see if somebody else bring it up first.

  7. 7
    white raven says:

    Candy – that whole pillow tossing thing is a new one on me, and that’s saying something as I’ve been heavily involved in Harry Potter fandom for a while now and thought I’d read/seen everything.

    Tossing pillows/tossing salad.  Gives me a bizarre image of some strange BDSM scenario involving salad tongs.  *shrugs*

    Would you still be willing to slash and burn my stuff if I admit to not writing about salad tongs or pillow tossing in my story?  :)

  8. 8
    Sarah says:

    See, now I have this theory that “tossing pillows” is like a pearl necklace, only farther south. Of course, that might be tossing ON pillows. But I’m with y’all that pillows = boobs.

  9. 9
    Sarah says:

    Oh, and BRING on the erotica! Email Candy or me for info on how/where to submit.

  10. 10
    Candy says:

    White Raven: I was looking for brand-new definition for pillow-tossing so I could do for pillow-tossing what Dan Savage did for Santorum :cheese: . But of course we’ll review your fiction. Sarah and I are just about ready to swoon at the thought of people wanting us to review their writing.

    Oh, and here’s the filthy definition I came up with for pillow-tossing: smacking of the quivering alabaster mounds rapidly with the Mighty Spear of Love.

  11. 11
    Sarah says:

    I will have you all know that until I moved to Jersey, Santorum was my senator. Oh, the shame. The shame!

    Perhaps pillow-tossing could also refer to boobie schtupping? AKA, titty fucking?

  12. 12
    Candy says:

    I thought about that too. But it already has so many handy synonyms.

    Is there some sort of bondage/S&M fetish involving spanking the ass hard with a big salad spoon?

    D’you think I’m spending waaaay too much time and effort thinking of this???

  13. 13
    Sarah says:

    Yes, moundy pounding has many a synonym, and is too easy to refer to obliquely.

    Perhaps it refers to a male, engaged in the doggy-style position, lifting the female’s patoot “pillows” repeatedly for some kind of weird reverse leverage?

    Ok, I’m really reaching there. No pun intended.

  14. 14
    Candy says:

    And you thought spankins with a salad spoon weren’t??

  15. 15
    Sarah says:

    This is true. Good point.

  16. 16
    white raven says:

    Oh, and here’s the filthy definition I came up with for pillow-tossing: smacking of the quivering alabaster mounds rapidly with the Mighty Spear of Love.

    LOL.  Well, besides drowning in the purple (did you borrow that from Kathleen Woodiwiss? 

    ;-) ) that particular act sounds ouch-worthy to be honest.  Spouse ever comes at me with the idea of bludgeoning my pillows with his Harpoon of Heaven, I think I might just reduce it to a matchstick.  :-S

  17. 17
    Candy says:

    I was thinking of Beatrice Small, actually, hee hee. Besides being uncomfortable, my definition of pillow-tossing has the benefit of looking really, really silly. But hey, if donkey-punching and dirty Sanchez are bona fide sex acts….

  18. 18
    white raven says:

    I was thinking of Beatrice Small, actually, hee hee.

    Oh yeah, the classic bodice-ripper queen.  The only thing I ever found remotely palatable about her works was an early novel called The Kadin.  Everything else – *rolls eyes*  The whole Skye O’Malley series was retch-worthy, IMO.  Of course, mileage may vary for others.

    Besides being uncomfortable, my definition of pillow-tossing has the benefit of looking really, really silly.

    I especially liked your statement of “toss my pillows, bitch.”  It’s my anniversary tomorrow.  I think I’ll say that to my spouse during our celebratory shag.

    But hey, if donkey-punching and dirty Sanchez are bona fide sex acts….

    Ick.  I think I’ll go bleach my brain now.

  19. 19
    Sarah says:

    Oh, Beatrice Small. I once heard her speak at a conference, and she cracked me up. She’s this tiny old lady who is feisty as hell and when she answered questions about love scenes I about had to fan myself, because here is this nice little elderly lady talking about mad nookie.

    Also, I have a HUGE soft spot for one of her books – Blaze Wyndham. One of the most bizarre and purple books ever, but gosh darn I love it. It’s like a comfort read – one of the first romances I read.

  20. 20
    Valerie says:

    That side-note… Jesus Effing Christ I love you Bitches. I laughed so hard i cried.

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