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REVIEW: My Dangerous Duke by Gaelen Foley

My Dangerous Duke by Gaelen FoleyDear   Ms. Foley,

I read and very much enjoyed your novel, The Duke, back when dinosaurs still roamed the Earth (okay, slight exaggeration, but sometimes it feels that long ago; actually, the internet tells me that The Duke was published in 2000). Impressed as I was, I hunted up and read your previous series, the Ascencion trilogy, and then  began to read each book in the Knight Miscellany series as they came out. I liked some of these books better than others, but my interest waned sometime before the Knight Miscellany series ended – none of the books had the same impact for me that The Duke had, and eventually I moved onto other things. Thus, it’s probably been a good five or six years since I picked up one of your books. When I saw that you had a new novel coming out, I decided to dip my toe in the water again and see if I was missing anything.

The book opens in Cornwall in 1816. Our heroine, Kate Madsen, has been held captive after being  kidnapped some weeks before from her cozy cottage on the edge of the moors, in a possible case of mistaken identity (her captors think she is named Kate Fox). She is being held by a gang of smugglers, and now they plan to turn her over for use as a sex toy to the Duke of Warrington, known to the denizens of the local village as the Beast. The smugglers have run afoul of the Duke and plan to use Kate as part of a peace offering. Apparently this was before the invention of those pretty fruit baskets where the fruits are cut to look like flowers.

Anyway, Kate, a quiet, scholarly lass (but not so quiet and scholarly that she hasn’t been fighting the smugglers tooth and nail since her abduction) is suitably horrified at the prospect. She’s been drugged with opium to make her more compliant when she is dragged to the Beast’s castle, a rather medieval affair supposedly haunted by the ghosts of murdered Warrington wives of bygone eras. You see, Warrington is part of a secret order called…the Order, which for centuries has battled another secret order, more imaginatively named the Prometheans (okay, to be fair, I later realized it was The Order of St. Michael, but they usually just go by the short name). In my quest to find out  (y’all, I do research for these reviews!) if the Prometheans were a real group, I came across: 1) some sort of weird role-playing game based loosely on Frankenstein, 2) a software company, 3) a philosophical movement which, from the website I perused for all of three minutes, seems typical of  most philosophical movements in its intense devotion to navel-gazing. Since the Prometheans in My Dangerous Duke are repeatedly  described as “evil”, I’m guessing they may be related to #2 above, but who knows.

Anyway, where was I? Oh, yes, Beast, castle, virgin sacrifice. Anyway, our hero, whose first name is Rohan, accepts his gift and has her deposited in his bedroom for later ravishment. When he comes to do the ravishing, he finds her passed out from the opium (he thinks she’s drunk, and a prostitute). Because he’s really a nice guy, he declines to do the ravishing, which both the hero and heroine seem to later  think is just swell of him. Yes, I’m aware that the book is set in different times, but it wasn’t written in different times, and there’s only so much admiration I can muster for the hero for refraining from raping the heroine while she’s unconscious. They do manage a little petting when she is pretty out of it, and honestly, I found that distasteful enough.

When Kate wakes up the next day, she tries to flee the castle, and, after saving her from falling off a cliff in a storm, Rohan is finally able to straighten out their wacky misunderstanding and realize that she’s a kidnapped bluestocking and not a dipsomanicial whore. He also discovers that she appears to have a connection to the Prometheans, one Kate herself is not aware of. So then we embark on a period where Rohan wants Kate but doesn’t trust her, and Kate wants Rohan (she cottons to him pretty quickly, actually) but doesn’t understand all of his mysterious secrets or why he’s holding her at arm’s length.

The “why” has to do with Kate actually being a blood descendant not just of the Prometheans but of the original baddie himself, some sort of sorcerer known as Valerian the Alchemist. It was V the A who had originally “cursed” the Warrington line (no, seriously) and supposedly caused all of those Dukes of Warrington to murder or otherwise cause the deaths of their wives.

Okay, I had a lot of problems with this book, and this whole business was one of them. I am not a big fan of Unexpected Paranormal Elements, but I guess that’s my problem. But I also am not fond of books that just can’t decide if they want to be paranormal or not. This book did eventually decide, but far too late for my tastes. The entire Prometheans v. Order dynamic, replete with occult mumbo-jumbo, was way over the top, and not in a good way. I felt like the book got more and more cartoonish as it went along, at least in its portrayal of these two secret groups that were battling it out, good v. evil style, with the fate of the world hanging in the balance. It all just struck me as very silly (again, not in a good way, though others may be more forgiving). The silliness reaches its height in the dramatic denouement in which our hero and heroine venture into a secret, booby-trapped cave in the Orkney Islands in order to retrieve value scrolls from the tomb of Valerian the Alchemist before the baddies can get there. The scene seems to go on forever, and features rivers of fire and swinging knives – honestly, it’s very Indiana Jones-ish, and I could see it working on screen, but on the page it was confusing (at least to me; I’m not a highly visual reader) and ridiculous.

This is one of those books, I’m afraid to say, for which my potential final grade kept slipping as I read. First I was thinking C, then C-, then D+, and then D. It never got to F level – it’s not egregiously bad – but I didn’t find that it had a lot to recommend it. The characterization was flat – the hero and heroine more a collection of cliches than anything. The writing was similarly cliched and at times far too purple for my taste. The external plot was absurd, and the internal h/h conflict was pretty tired as well – he’s troubled because he’s a big, bad assassin and so doesn’t think that he’s good enough for her.

Reflecting back on my fondness for The Duke, I have to wonder if I’ve changed or romance has changed in the ten years since it was published. Maybe it’s a little of both. I think if I’d read My Dangerous Duke back then, I would’ve had more patience with some of the romance tropes it features. I don’t think it would’ve been a A level book for me, but I think I would’ve liked it better than I do having read it in 2010. As it as, again, my grade for My Dangerous Duke is a D.

Best regards,

Jennie

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This is a mass market published by Avon who participates in agency pricing (thus no discounting and tax will be assessed for some readers).

has been an avid if often frustrated romance reader for the past 15 years. In that time she's read a lot of good romances, a few great ones, and, unfortunately, a whole lot of dreck. Many of her favorite authors (Ivory, Kinsale, Gaffney, Williamson, Ibbotson) have moved onto other genres or produce new books only rarely, so she's had to expand her horizons a bit. Newer authors she enjoys include Julie Ann Long, Megan Hart and J.R. Ward, and she eagerly anticipates each new Sookie Stackhouse novel. Strong prose and characterization go a long way with her, though if they are combined with an unusual plot or setting, all the better. When she's not reading romance she can usually be found reading historical non-fiction.

40 Comments

  1. meoskop
    Jun 30, 2010 @ 11:17:39

    This is a timely review – I’m buying less books under Agency pricing and two releases this month are by authors I’ve been on the fence with. This makes my choice easier as I have issues with the Molesting Hero.

  2. TKF
    Jun 30, 2010 @ 11:28:23

    All I can think of when I see the name Rohan is Tolkien’s The Riders of Rohan.

    And I’m another who’s not a fan of surprise paranormal elements or bizarre secret societies (I blame Amanda Quick and her damn Vanu/Vanza/Valerian [whatever the hell it was] secret sect for this whole trend). Harking back to Sarah's recent post: they should have to disclose this crap before I pay for a book!

  3. Jane
    Jun 30, 2010 @ 11:32:01

    @TKF the next Liz Carlyle is paranormal historical (or has paranormal elements). I was confused for the first third of the book because there was nothing in the cover, blurb, etc that would tip a reader off.

  4. Jayne
    Jun 30, 2010 @ 11:44:27

    @Jane: Is this a new trend we need to watch for? Or watch out for?

  5. Jane
    Jun 30, 2010 @ 12:18:43

    @Jayne: Don’t know. Maybe it is an Avon thing. The next Liz Carlyle is an Avon book. I know that paranormal historicals don’t sell well so maybe they are hoping people will buy and enjoy but I think people will just be ticked off at being misled.

  6. katiebabs
    Jun 30, 2010 @ 12:39:38

    Avon does this way too many times where I will pick up one of their historicals and as I read the book, it’s a paranormal. From the cover and blurb in the back is very misleading.

    Anne Mallory’s historical that’s up for best paranormal RITA is a perfect example of the cover and synopsis not giving any indication that it’s a paranormal historical.

  7. Kris
    Jun 30, 2010 @ 13:05:51

    I love historical paranormals. I wish there were more of them and frankly don’t get why there aren’t. But I do understand why a misleading cover would tick people off.

    One question though, is this a matter of misleading covers or a general dislike of historical paranormals? Just curious.

  8. GrowlyCub
    Jun 30, 2010 @ 13:47:24

    @Jane: NOOOOOOOOOOOOO, tell me it ain’t so. I knew her move to Avon would spell doom. :(

  9. Janine
    Jun 30, 2010 @ 13:54:16

    I don’t understand why historical paranormals are unpopular either. And if they aren’t popular, why would Avon be publishing so many? Color me confused.

  10. Janine
    Jun 30, 2010 @ 13:56:08

    BTW I got one of those edible arrangements for my birthday this past fall and they are even more beautiful IRL than in photos.

  11. willaful
    Jun 30, 2010 @ 13:59:36

    I completely agree with you about the downward progression of Foley’s books and I first read The Duke just a few years ago, so I think it has to do with the quality of the books themselves rather than the publishing years. Thanks for the fun review.

  12. Kate Pearce
    Jun 30, 2010 @ 14:07:24

    Oh blimey, I have a historical paranormal coming out in August, I hope people want to read it!

  13. TKF
    Jun 30, 2010 @ 14:07:36

    @Janine: Maybe they’d be more popular if they were marketed as PARANORMALS. When I buy a historical, I expect it to be HISTORICAL. If I wanted a paranormal, I’d buy one. The way I look at it, paranormal trumps historical when it comes to pinning down the genre. I'm not at all surprised to find Avon doing this, however. Their ‘brand” in my mind is light, fluffy, wallpaper historicals. Adding secret paranormal aspects seems right up their alley.

    And yes, I know not all their authors fit this “brand”, but most of them do.

  14. TKF
    Jun 30, 2010 @ 14:09:37

    @Kate Pearce: Is it being marketed as a paranormal? If so, then the right readers will find it. I not, you've got a problem IMO.

  15. Joy
    Jun 30, 2010 @ 14:21:06

    @Jane: the next Liz Carlyle is paranormal historical (or has paranormal elements).
    NO No nooooooo make it stop make it stop!

    Good historical fiction is already like visiting another country; I don’t want magical or seekrit society stuff that’s all made up mixed in. I have liked the odd book that could be described as historical romance fantasy (the Wrede/Stevemer collaborations in particular) that does this, but it’s got to be done really, really, really, really well to even get me to nibble.

    I say this as a Carlyle fan, too.

  16. Kate Pearce
    Jun 30, 2010 @ 15:27:22

    @TKF:

    Well it’s coming out with Signet Eclipse who I think are more paranormal than Avon, –
    I wrote it as a paranormal set in Tudor England with Druids and Vampires, title Kiss of the Rose.

  17. TKF
    Jun 30, 2010 @ 15:48:22

    @Kate Pearce: Well if they manage to skip over Druids and Vampires in the back cover copy then we KNOW it’s a scam, LOL! But is sounds like it will be properly marketed as a paranormal.

  18. Karenmc
    Jun 30, 2010 @ 16:21:18

    I agree with Joy. I’m a huge fan of Carlyle’s earlier work, and I’d hate to see a paranormal creep into the mix. Been there and done that with MJ Putney. Can you imagine My False Heart with magic tossed in? Oh noes…

  19. GrowlyCub
    Jun 30, 2010 @ 16:24:44

    @Karenmc:

    And even though MJ has gone back to historicals now, they are just no good. It’s like she’s lost what made her writing special. :(

    So, three paranormals for Carlyle are probably the death knell for my reading of her. /cries

  20. orannia
    Jun 30, 2010 @ 16:27:55

    Thank you Jennie!

    Count me as another who doesn’t like paranormal elements in a historical romance. If it’s a paranormal set in a historical period, that’s fine. I know they sound the same but, from where I sit they are quite different :) It’s the light mixing of the two that drives me batty!

  21. TKF
    Jun 30, 2010 @ 16:47:19

    Their mission: to stop the insidious spread of an evil, centuries-old secret society with tentacles in every court in Europe and members among the uppermost reaches of power

    This is from the longer explanation on her website about the “Inferno Club”. It’s about as close as you get to a hint that there is paranormal fuckwitery afoot, and I don’t think it really tells you anything of the sort (sounds more like a spy set up to me).

  22. TKF
    Jun 30, 2010 @ 16:51:43

    @Jane: OMG, Jane, not a damn thing on Carlye’s site that tells you there are paranormals elements to the story! Readers are going to be pissed.

  23. Pamelia
    Jun 30, 2010 @ 16:57:06

    Well, having recently read “The Duke” I can say that it is in fact a darn good book IMO. Having recently read a bunch of her later works I can agree that YES they are getting worserer and worserer. I don’t mind paranormal historicals at all, but like anything else if it’s written poorly it’s gonna suck! This one sounds awful sucky, so I’m glad I read your review and didn’t waste my time. Thanks, Jennie!

  24. GrowlyCub
    Jun 30, 2010 @ 16:59:14

    @TKF:

    On twitter Animejune said the blurb told her right away that the Carlyle is a paranormal (last sentence ‘dark gifts’). I didn’t see it and I bet lots of unsuspecting readers won’t grok it either.

  25. Jane
    Jun 30, 2010 @ 17:23:02

    @GrowlyCub I think the blurb didn’t give me hints because I wasn’t expecting paranormal stuff from Carlyle and thus “dark gifts” could mean anything.

  26. Jennie
    Jun 30, 2010 @ 17:43:23

    To clarify, the paranormal elements of My Dangerous Duke were not hugely overt. I’ll leave a spoiler space for an explanation…

    SPOILERS AHEAD
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    In the end, Rohan decides that there is not a curse on the men of his family, meaning, I guess, that all those wives who died were just a coincidence. And despite the mention of ghosts, I don’t recall any ever actually showing up in the book. The other paranormal elements are sort of hazy and debatable. There is the original villain, called “the Alchemist”, but I’m not sure that there were any confirmed acts of sorcery by him. The whole Prometheans v. Order business felt paranormal because it involved these groups that, while not superhuman, were portrayed as existing outside of the regular world – fighting a centuries long battle that truly was good v. evil without the knowledge of “regular” people. And the cave that I mentioned at the end was fantastical – it was hard to imagine or understand such a thing being constructed and maintained without either a greater level of technology than these characters would have had knowledge of, or magic.

    But some of this may just be Foley’s penchant for going over the top – I remember that in one of the Knight Miscellany books (about one of the twins), the hero fights off like 15 men single-handedly to save the heroine. Reading that at the time, my eyes rolled around in my head so much that I think I sprained an eyeball.

  27. katiebabs
    Jun 30, 2010 @ 17:46:54

    Also Foley’s heroes always had incredible skill with their mouths and hands when they loves their ladies. But again, isn’t that like most historical romance heroes?

  28. GrowlyCub
    Jun 30, 2010 @ 17:57:55

    @Jane:

    Exactly! Interesting point is that Animejune hasn’t read much Carlyle, so to her ‘dark gifts’ was significant in a way that it wouldn’t be to folks who have read her extensively and would expect historical romance without any woowoo.

    ETA: Also saw on twitter that the new Brockmann has a ghost? I figure that’s gonna go over like lead, too, with the readers who were looking forward to a contemp title.

  29. EGS
    Jun 30, 2010 @ 18:01:39

    It makes me sad that Foley’s writing has gone down the drain with her last few books. I loved both The Duke and Lord of Fire. I gave up on her with Her Only Desire, and it seems that each subsequent book has received a lot of bad reviews.

  30. Joan/SarahF
    Jun 30, 2010 @ 18:46:33

    @GrowlyCub: Ghost in new Brockmann is way to add her historical element into book, like in the early TS series. Don’t know how much play he actually has, but he narrates portions of the story.

  31. Vi
    Jun 30, 2010 @ 19:27:26

    There’s a ghost narrator in the new Brockmann??? Someone help me understand how this could be good?

  32. Ridley
    Jun 30, 2010 @ 19:48:33

    I am shocked to hear Carlyle is writing paranormals now.

    I guess I’ll try it before I knock it, but it’s going to be a tough pill to swallow. Leaving Kemble et al behind was hard enough, leaving “reality” as well is a bit of a cold shower.

  33. CEAD
    Jul 01, 2010 @ 05:24:02

    I read the entire Knight Miscellany back-to-back a few months ago, and I think I probably could have made a line graph showing the decrease in quality. One Night of Sin pleasantly surprised me, but most graphs of real data have noise, so I think it was an outlier.

    The news about Liz Carlyle’s new release is more than a little distressing. I don’t mind paranormals in theory – my first love was pre-UF fantasy, after all – but I find myself generally underwhelmed by their execution. Carlyle might be able to pull it off; I thought Mallory did an okay job of it, once I’d got over the initial “what the hell”.

    Mallory’s website has been reassuring readers for months that her latest isn’t any species of paranormal, so one conjectures she learned her lesson after the last one. Maybe it will turn out to be a phase for Carlyle too.

    @Kate Pearce: Your website is absolutely unambiguous that your new release is a paranormal, so your fans won’t be incensed by any bait-and-switch (at least, the ones who go to your website). This wasn’t the case with the Mallory or Carlyle books.

  34. TKF
    Jul 01, 2010 @ 07:40:57

    @GrowlyCub:

    Interesting point is that Animejune hasn't read much Carlyle, so to her ‘dark gifts' was significant in a way that it wouldn't be to folks who have read her extensively and would expect historical romance without any woowoo.

    Well I’m glad someone got the clue. Nothing in the packaging of the books says paranormal to me. The title are cover are straight historical, and the “devil” hints in the blurb are pretty much standard fare for “dark angsty historical hero”. Once you TELL ME it’s paranormal, I can see the vague hints, but as a historical reader I’d really have no clue and I’d be royally pissed. Like email her and her editor and return the book pissed.

  35. TKF
    Jul 01, 2010 @ 07:50:54

    Mallory's website has been reassuring readers for months that her latest isn't any species of paranormal, so one conjectures she learned her lesson after the last one. Maybe it will turn out to be a phase for Carlyle too.

    It’s the perceived fast one being pulled on the readers that’s so offensive. I don’t think most of us would mind our favorite authors branching out and trying something new, we might even go along for the ride, but giving us a paranormal in a historical package stinks of bait and switch. And not telling me you're switching genres is simply unacceptable.

  36. Kate Pearce
    Jul 01, 2010 @ 12:33:23

    @CEAD:

    Thank you. Well you know you would think so, seeing as it says paranormal on the spine, but RT just reviewed it as a historical romance and said it didn’t have enough history in it-kind of this situation reversed LOL

  37. Lusty Reader
    Jul 01, 2010 @ 13:43:41

    Foley’s Spice Trilogy came first for me, then I moved on the to Knight Misc and enjoyed them all to varying degrees. I mean obvi enough to read like 7 of her books!

    I also saw her RANDOMLY mentioned in JR Ward’s recent re-release of Unforgettable Lady (which she wrote as Jessica Bird in 2004). The heroine references Foley as her favorite romance author which made me smile since it wasn’t the usual Nora Roberts referral.

    LASTLY (sorry for the long comment) I read the first book in Foley’s Inferno Club My Wicked Marquess and hated it. Truly. After liking (or loving) most of the 7 books of hers I read previously I was shocked by my vehement reaction, but it struck me as over the top silly, i was laughing AT IT as i read. just didnt get the characters’ motivations and The Order sounded like little boys playing in a tree house.

    i will totally reread and enjoy many of her others, but i wont touch another one in this new series.

  38. dick
    Jul 01, 2010 @ 14:12:46

    Foley’s latest was ludicrous silliness; it deserved an F.

  39. Bianca
    Jul 01, 2010 @ 16:30:22

    Disappointing. I too was considering trying Gaelen Foley again with this release (I stopped somewhere in the Knight series), but now I won’t bother. I’m not a huge fan of paranormals, and the whole premise of The Order (lol really now?) just sounds childish.

    It’s too bad — I remember *loving* her Prince Charming, but then nothing really after that.

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