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REVIEW: Between the Duke and the Deep Blue Sea by Sophia...

Dear Ms. Nash:

So. I’m thinking that I’m not quite the right reader for your books. “Between the Duke and the Deep Blue Sea” is meant to be a comedy, a piece of frivolity. It’s a tale of frippery, if I can borrow a period phrase. There is nothing wrong with frippery but sometimes it can be too overdecorated or too flimsy. I thought this story was both.

Between the Duke and the Deep Blue Sea Sophia NashThis book starts out with Prinny ordering six bachelor Dukes to marry. Who knew that Prinny was involved in making a gaggle dukes get married? This was the set up for the Kieran Kramer series (among others). In the Kramer series, Prinny stumbles through a secret door and commands all the members of the room to marry one after the other. In this book, the first Duke to marry is Alexander Barclay, the newly minted Duke of Kress, who lost his newly acquired fortune in a debauched bachelor party that has made the monarchy look bad. The debauched bachelor party led the Duke of Candover to miss his wedding and jilt an unknown bride at the altar. Har de har har. (I never knew when I was supposed to laugh in this book but I presumed this setup was supposed to be witty).

Alexander is a city boy and he does not want to be sent to Cornwall to rebuild, in one month, a crumbling estate while also hosting a house party so that he and his fellow ducal miscreants can find wives. Prinny is allowing Alex to use the treasury to restore the estate until such time as Alex can find a wealthy heiress. Alex isn’t a particularly nice guy. One reviewer at Amazon called him a frat boy and that is the perfect description. He doesn’t think much of the country folks (calling them tin as opposed to the gold of the burnished town folks, or in some cases fool’s gold). He is often prosing about making generalities about women being complaining, whiny, and overreaching. Unfortunately, none of these are recognized as flaws through which he must grow. Instead, they are part of what is supposed to make him charming and witty.

Alex comes across Roxanne Van­ derhaven, the Countess of Paxton, (Vanderhaven, really?) when she is hanging off the side of a cliff after her husband had tried to kill her. She realizes her husband’s murderous intent after she falls and he doesn’t return with the promised help. Instead Alex finds her hanging off the cliff and saves her. Roxanne begs for Alex to hide her after he tells her he will spirit her to a magistrate who will, of course, see that the Earl of Paxton is brought to justice:

He bit back a smile. It was unkind to find humor in any part of this unfortunate lady’s circumstances. “All right. Here is what I propose,” he continued. “Let us get you to the magistrate of the parish. He will sort this out and mete out the justice your de­ lightful husband deserves. No one is above the laws of the land, no matter what his station.”

After Roxanne convinces Alex that a magistrate is not the answer, they journey to his home whereupon hijinks occur. I’m pretty sure that the story was a mistorical. There was the outspoken valet of the newly made Duke of Kress who interjected his opinions in front of Prinny and six dukes, a couple of them royal dukes. There was the last name of Roxanne. Vanderhaven as the last name of British nobility seems quite rare. The entire modern tone of their discourse. The scene were a squatting crofter comes up to the Duke (Alex) and tells him that his family has been squatting for centuries and he’d like to go on squatting and Alex gives his blessing.

The story had a thing about details. It takes a fierce dislike to details. Who cares how Roxanne would dress at this house party attended by dukes and maids meant for Dukes. Why she would wear Alex’s Great Aunt Meme’s clothes. Or how Roxanne got her male disguise to attend her own funeral complete with a fake mustache. Or how she managed to take a horse from the Duke’s stable. Or to whom Alex lost his fortune or how Alex had even become a duke. Or why the Earl had a burial with no body. Or how Roxanne intended to assert ownership to her deceased father’s hidden fortune of gold guineas which were not left to her in the will.

Probably the most troublesome aspect of this story was its huge cast of characters and the non stop heavy handed sequel baiting. Not only are there several dukes at the party but there is one missing duke and everyone took turns wondering where he was. Things would occur that aren’t well explained to the reader but are clearly to be set up for later books. The unrequited feelings one of the guests had for another guest was more interesting than the furtive actions to be revealed later and the missing duke.

As I read the book I often thought to myself that there were definitely readers who would find the book funny and there were moments of humor and times in which the dialogue could bring a smile to someone’s face. I wondered why I couldn’t just lose myself within the text. Clearly this book wasn’t to be taken seriously. I kind of feel like the No Fun Police by pointing out the flaws in a book like this but every time I resolved to try to set aside my issues, a new problem would arise such as when it was revealed that the Duchess of March (clearly modeled after the Duke of Marlborough’s progeny) was only 17. Yet she was “the only female in the prince’s entourage”, the one female attending the morning after debauchery; the one female that was present with a bunch of men in a state of dissolute repair and undress after their bachelor; the one female who was present in His Majesty’s bedchambers with all the other dukes and the Archbishop of Canterbury. Oh, and the valet of Alex. I mean, What. The. Fuck.

The good thing is that Roxanne goes from trying to be the perfect wife to taking life into her hands, traipsing about as a man; helping rebuild (literally with her own hands) the crumbling manor; saving people from drowning. There are some nice women in the story with whom Roxanne forms a friendship. These ladies, of course, will be married off to the Dukes in latter books. The main conflict of the story I thought would be Roxanne being a) alive and b) married but it was primarily that Alex was instructed to marry someone wealthy and titled. The book was too crowded and the characterizations too weak for me. D

Best regards,


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Jane Litte is the founder of Dear Author, a lawyer, and a lover of pencil skirts. She self publishes NA and contemporaries (and publishes with Berkley and Montlake) and spends her downtime reading romances and writing about them. Her TBR pile is much larger than the one shown in the picture and not as pretty. You can reach Jane by email at jane @ dearauthor dot com


  1. Jayne
    Mar 01, 2012 @ 04:26:17

    This is a prime example of why I’m finding it harder and harder to read recently published historicals.

    This book starts out with Prinny ordering six bachelor Dukes to marry.

    That sentence alone is enough to doom it for me. The rest is just icing on the cake.

  2. Merrian
    Mar 01, 2012 @ 04:41:24

    If the wicked earl wasn’t dead then no marriage could take place without a special act of parliament i.e. divorce was restricted to the very wealthy as it demanded either a complex annulment process in the ecclesiastical courts or a private members bill; either at great cost. The latter entailed sometimes lengthy debates about a couple’s intimate marital relationship in public in the House of Commons (thanks Wikipedia); was this blithely ignored?

    By the sounds, the book isn’t my cup of tea.

    I can’t stand these sort of great lumps readers are expected to swallow and wish to say bah-humbug.

  3. Rosie
    Mar 01, 2012 @ 05:30:15

    @Jayne: Amen

    I do way too much eye rolling these days when it comes to series set ups.

    So many bachelor dukes, so little time!

  4. HelenB
    Mar 01, 2012 @ 06:05:29

    “Making the monarchy look bad” – has the author EVER read an actual history book? Prinny was doing that all on his own and as for letting these idiots use the treasury, words fail me. Parliament controlled the treasury. Why give this sort of book a historical setting? Set it in lala land, then anything goes.

  5. Ros
    Mar 01, 2012 @ 06:30:51

    Duke of Kress strikes me as worse than Vanderhaven. I mean, Vanderhaven is obviously not a British name, but I don’t think Kress is a name at all.

  6. Patricia Eimer
    Mar 01, 2012 @ 08:00:23

    Wow it sounds like a primer on how not to write a historical from how you made it sound. I think this is a definite pass.

  7. Sunita
    Mar 01, 2012 @ 08:42:47

    @Ros: Maybe his first peerage was the Barony of Egg.

    What Jayne said. There must be readers who are buying these books, because they keep appearing, even though the rest of us feel as if our intelligence is being insulted. But I’m getting scared to even pick up a “historical” these days, because it’s increasingly likely to look like this.

  8. DM
    Mar 01, 2012 @ 08:43:45

    Ugh. This sounds worse than The Revenge of Lord Eberlin, which I wish had born the mistorical tag and saved me the purchase price. That one had a title and an entailed estate being WILLED to the heroine. I know there are readers who do not care about historical authenticity–but why ignore readers who do when you could satisfy both? Thanks for saving me from this one!

  9. EmilyW
    Mar 01, 2012 @ 08:58:48

    I can’t remember the last Avon book I read. They definitely don’t publish what I like.

  10. DS
    Mar 01, 2012 @ 09:02:35

    As I read the review I flashed on Black Adder the Third with Hugh Laurie doing a fabulous job as the dim witted Prince of Wales trying to obtain funding from Parliament. That is the only time that someone explained rotten boroughs in a television comedy. Black Adder is funny, it makes me laugh at history and I like to rewatch it. This book sounds like it would irritate me so I shall avoid it.

  11. Jayne
    Mar 01, 2012 @ 09:17:04

    @DS: I just recently finished watching Black Adder the Third – after I bought the latest omnibus set of everything Black Adder – and loved Laurie in this role. “Lawk, lawk, lawk, lawk, lawk, lawk!”

  12. Maili
    Mar 01, 2012 @ 09:23:39

    I mean, What. The. Fuck.


  13. Lynnd
    Mar 01, 2012 @ 10:21:53

    @Sunita: Me too.

  14. Liz Mc2
    Mar 01, 2012 @ 10:33:07

    @Ros: @Sunita: Actually, I had a friend whose surname was Kress, but agree it’s an implausible ducal title.

    My problem with a lot of these books isn’t even so much that they’re mistorical (though they are) but that the world is internally inconsistent. Mostly they are not funny, charming or romantic enough for me to forget about that and lose myself in the story.

  15. Linda Hilton
    Mar 01, 2012 @ 11:10:21

    @Ros: Ros, Sunita, Liz — Yes, Kress is a real name. It may be German or something, but I went to high school with a Nancy Kress (class of 1966, suburban Chicago) whose hair I envied mightily.

  16. Rosa E.
    Mar 01, 2012 @ 11:16:58

    Is anyone else just . . . exhausted with the flurry of dukes these days? It’s gotten to the point where if I see the word ‘duke’ in a title I skip over it automatically. There’s the occasional baron, and a smattering of counts, but again and again we come back to the bachelor dukes. The opening bit about Prinny ordering the six to get married would have been a wallbanger moment if I’d actually had the book in hand.

  17. Sunita
    Mar 01, 2012 @ 11:20:22

    @Liz Mc2: @Linda Hilton: I’ve seen Kress as a name too, but it struck me as completely ridiculous as an English or British title. German origin, but I wouldn’t be surprised if there are Ellis-Island-era Kresses in the US who weren’t from Germany.

    When I looked up Vanderhaven after Jane and I were talking about it, I discovered that William III bestowed Earldoms on a couple of his Dutch friends. But they became the Earls of Portland and Albemarle (family names Bentinck and van Keppel respectively). The van der Havens of Holland seemed to have mostly landed up in the Americas, however.

  18. Maili
    Mar 01, 2012 @ 11:30:35

    @Rosa E.: You’re definitely not alone. It’s crazy, too, when we know that there are only (roughly) 25 dukes any time throughout Britain’s history. [Edited: Actually, I think the figure is lower? Would 15 be more accurate?]

  19. nearhere
    Mar 01, 2012 @ 11:40:43

    I just finished this book and really enjoyed it. It reminded me a lot of Loretta Chase. Yes all of the Dukes seemed silly, and I don’t think I’d be reading this to learn about history but I enjoyed the characters and the writing.

    And I thought the hermit was kind of cool but then I was a big fan of the hermit in the Regency House Party tv series.

  20. Ridley
    Mar 01, 2012 @ 11:50:51

    Whenever I see that a book features a duke these days, I assume it’s meant for “those” readers who “don’t know any better.”

    Not sure how I’d define that, or who “they” are, but titles and covers are marketing and that’s the feeling this particular marketing produces in me.

  21. Boycotting the Dukes, and Other Reading Choices | Something More
    Mar 01, 2012 @ 12:38:35

    […] by Jane’s review of Sophia Nash’s Between the Duke and the Deep Blue Sea, I am declaring my personal reading […]

  22. Lynn S.
    Mar 01, 2012 @ 12:43:57

    Ah, concept series, when will they ever stop? Celeste Bradley is about as far as I’m willing to travel on the frippery train.

    @Sunita: Last stop, high tea in Eggsville.

  23. DS
    Mar 01, 2012 @ 12:49:10

    I sometimes wish I read more of these books so boycotting them would have some effect. As it stands I would not have bought them anyway and no one will miss my lack of contribution.

  24. Linda Hilton
    Mar 01, 2012 @ 13:26:58

    At the risk of coming across as a snob, I’d venture to say most readers, maybe even the vast majority, don’t know and don’t care about historical accuracy in the least. Or about good writing. Those who do care, and who either blog for themselves about it or participate in discussions such as this one or the previous lengthy conversations about Spoil of War or Celtic Storms, to name just two, are an elite minority. And personally, I think it’s going to get worse instead of better, because there are no gatekeepers at all. It’s one thing for a self-published digital book to be filled with mishmashed history, screwed up titles and forms of address, and absurdly anachronistic language/behavior/whatnot, but this book came from a reputable (?) print publisher that presumably has a staff of readers and editors to weed out the dreck and polish what’s left. Maybe the publishers don’t care either, so long as it makes money.

    And don’t count on the reviewers at the point of sale to provide any credible analysis, as the brouhaha over the Mainak Dhar/Alice in Deadland review situation proved a couple of weeks ago. I spent a few hours this past week-end looking at how some of the self-published historical romances on Amazon fare with the reviewers and the results were not encouraging, because unfortunately some of the worst get the highest ratings. If you’re in the mood for some tl/dr analysis —

  25. DianeN
    Mar 01, 2012 @ 15:47:35

    @Linda Hilton: Your schoolmate didn’t turn out to be the scifi writer Nancy Kress, did she? I’ve not read her books but the library I work in owns several of them. And I’ve got my own Kress to report–the guy who used to be my mechanic is one. Definitely not a duke, needless to say!

  26. Melissa
    Mar 01, 2012 @ 16:44:52

    @Ridley: I agree that the titles are just so much marketing. An interview with Eloisa James on the Word Wenches site, quotes her as saying that her publishers noticed that books with “Duke” or “Duchess” in the title sell better: In all fairness, Ms. James added that she sees “Duke” as shorthand for rich and powerful.

    I wonder if the plethora of dukes will eventually cause a backlash. I know that I look suspiciously at any title with the word “duke.” But honestly, I don’t place much stock in “wicked”, “dangerous”, “rogue” and probably a few others either.

  27. Janine
    Mar 01, 2012 @ 16:46:22

    @Linda Hilton: She’s not the science fiction author of the same name, is she?

    I agree with Sunita that Kress is fine as a name but doesn’t work so well as an English title.

  28. Susan
    Mar 01, 2012 @ 17:07:25


    Duke of Kress strikes me as worse than Vanderhaven. I mean, Vanderhaven is obviously not a British name, but I don’t think Kress is a name at all.
    Clearly the modern variant of the ancient Dukes of Waterkress. :-)

    I’ve read a number of Sophia Nash’s books in the past and, although they’ve been a little bit hit-or-miss with me, I’ve enjoyed several of them quite a bit. I don’t recall any of them having a frivolous or slapstick tone, so maybe she’s trying a new direction here.

    Maybe I’m one of “those” readers, but I find my tolerance level varies depending on my expectations for a book. Sometimes I require historical accuracy (or an attempt at it) and other times I’m willing to suspend belief depending on the story. A lot of it depends on the set-up or what I thought I was getting into at the outset, if you know what I mean.

  29. Jayne
    Mar 01, 2012 @ 18:19:00


    I wonder if the plethora of dukes will eventually cause a backlash. I know that I look suspiciously at any title with the word “duke.” But honestly, I don’t place much stock in “wicked”, “dangerous”, “rogue” and probably a few others either.

    I’m with you on all this. And let me add the word “outrageous” in any blurb. Put that in a book description and it’s almost a guaranteed turn-off to me.

  30. Jane
    Mar 01, 2012 @ 18:37:46

    @Susan: I don’t think you are alone. I really disliked the Vicky Dreiling book that was about the Bachelor set in Regency times but I believe it won industry awards and lots of other readers liked it. I think this book by Nash is in that same vein. I like my humor more dialogue driven than event driven. Humor is so subjective anyway.

  31. Faye
    Mar 01, 2012 @ 19:38:31

    I’m 3/4 of the way through Nash’s Widows series right now, and I’ve really loved them. I’m sure there is implausibility, though no princely orders are in place, but I have loved and sympathized enormously with the heroines. The heroes in the first two each acted, towards the end, in a way that caused me to lose a lot of respect for them. I believed in the HEA because they knew how badly they’d acted after the fact, and spent the following books trying to make up for it.

    That said, this new series doesn’t sound all that compelling.

  32. HellyBelly
    Mar 02, 2012 @ 08:53:08

    I agree with you lot that Wicked and Dangerous Dukes are so last season.
    Enough already. Bring on some friendly Viscounts. And nothing mistorical, if you please.

  33. Liz Hanbury
    Mar 02, 2012 @ 15:43:04

    I’ve only recently discovered DA ( I know, where the heck have I been?!) and having read this review and comments, thought I’d come out of lurkdom and post this link

    It’s a 2009 newspaper article about the largest gathering of Dukes since 1953. There’s a Spot-the Duke photo and a Who’s Who of British Dukedoms, but what’s really stands out is that they are all are related and less than 500 men in British history have held the title ‘Duke’. And most of those were George III’s sons ;0)

    Gotta say the Duke of Argyll looks the real deal and anyone who claims to be captain of the Scottish elephant polo team can take me out to dinner! *g*

    And @Rosa E, thanks, I have a new collective noun: a flurry of Dukes :0)

    Blackadder the Third – hilarious, the dictionary episode always makes me splutter over my Earl Grey LOL.

    Keep up the great work; this is a fabulous site.

  34. lupulusanne
    Mar 02, 2012 @ 16:24:30

    In Germany exists a noble familiy, the Freiherren Kress von Kressenstein (Freiherr is aproximately Baron but not exactly the same). Some members of this familiy were famous military men or politicians.
    But I don’t think Nash called her hero after that family.
    Don’t remember where, but I’m sure I’ve read quite a favorable review about her book. But what made me not order it was the question how the marriage of the heroine was to be dissolved. I had my doubts about this point.
    Historical accuracy: How I crave for it! But it seems that more and more reviews ignore these “minor flaws” in a book when they like the story. It’s really frustrating.

  35. lupulusanne
    Mar 02, 2012 @ 16:27:50

    Historical accuracy: How I crave for it! But it seIn Germany exists a noble familiy, the Freiherren Kress von Kressenstein (Freiherr is aproximately Baron but not exactly the same). Some members of this familiy were famous military men or politicians.
    But I don’t think Nash called her hero after this family.
    Don’t remember where, but I’m sure I’ve read quite a favorable review about her book. But what made me not order it was the question how the marriage of the heroine was to be dissolved. I had my doubts about this point.It seems that more and more reviews ignore these “minor flaws” in a book when they like the story. It’s really frustrating.

  36. Jane
    Mar 02, 2012 @ 18:41:28

    The marriage issue is resolved naturally. Does that help?

  37. ranu
    May 14, 2012 @ 08:42:32

    It really was a tiresome book!wish i had read your review before buying it .

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