Romance, Historical, Contemporary, Paranormal, Young Adult, Book reviews, industry news, and commentary from a reader's point of view

REVIEW: All In With the Duke by Ava March

duke

Dear Ms. March:

One of the reasons I enjoy historical m/m — other than the Reese’s peanut butter cup of two favorite genres put together — is that there’s potential for great angst when the stakes are so high. The prologue of this novel, in which a duke is blackmailed about his sexual preferences by a former lover, seemed like the definition of high stakes. To my surprise, in the story that followed the conflicts were mainly internal, and there was very little tension or emotion around the fact that the main characters are gay in such a dangerous time. In fact, the book largely followed the form of a standard m/f romance.

Having been burned by his first major relationship, Max, the Duke of Pelham, is reluctant to trust again. When a friend urges him to patronize a brothel, emphasizing that it has “something for everyone,” Max impulsively decides to try it. (His lack of caution here seemed odd to me, in someone who’d been previously betrayed. On the other hand, he is very much a Duke and feeling invincible is part of his character.) He’s paired with Tristan, a singularly beautiful man with an amiable, offhand attitude towards sex. Max, who prefers to dominate his lovers, finds himself wanting to crack Tristan’s “calm, professional facade” and make him crazy with lust; he succeeds.

After two paid encounters, both Max and Tristan feel strongly drawn to each other — enough to make Tristan dread his next encounter with another client, and make Max feel quite shattered when he discovers that Tristan is with someone else. The plot goes along in a familiar way from there, with rescues, trust issues, balance of power issues, and a hero who refuses to love; there are few original elements until the end, in which Max and Tristan have to negotiate a complicated happy ever after.

All In With the Duke will probably be most enjoyed by readers who like lots and lots of sex scenes, because for a good portion of the book, that’s pretty much all Tristan and Max do. Max is a workaholic, and gradually Tristan helps him gets to the root of his obsession with being a proper Duke and loosen up a little. But their relationship is largely sex; it’s well written and passionate, with a nice chemistry between them as Dom and sub, but it gets samey, and much of it is not particularly important to the story. (The BDSM elements are quite mild, by the way.) Max’s interest in dominance does provide some interesting conflict — not because Tristan isn’t totally down with it, but because Max’s shame around his desires intersects badly with Tristan’s learned professionalism.

Those cuffs didn’t belong on his wrists. Tristan hadn’t wanted to wear them. “Take them off. The leather cuffs. Now.”

A nod from Tristan. He was ever goddamn obedient. Tristan always replied all right. Never refused Max anything. Agreed with Max’s every whim.

Because Max was paying him.

What the hell had he expected when he’d hired a prostitute? For Tristan to actually be honest with him?

Max had never felt more the fool in his entire life.

There are other enjoyably tense moments of drama throughout the story, but it didn’t add up to the sort of compelling intensity I relish. Both Max and Tristan are likable but not especially memorable; I never got desperately caught up in their personal issues or in whether they’d be able to work things out. The prose is perfectly readable, but again, doesn’t add anything special in the way of characterization or atmosphere to make it stand out. For awhile it seemed that there might be some exploration of sex and gender roles in the book: Tristan’s madam requires him to wear his hair long so he can sometimes put on a dress and play “damsel in distress” for conflicted clients, and then he’s literally put into a classic “in distress” position, to be genuinely rescued by Max. But nothing further happens; neither character even seems to recognize the irony.

The brightest moment for me was the ending; after a plot that was pretty much by the numbers wallpaper historical, it was fresh and a little surprising, without a deus ex machina.

There’s a lot to be said for m/m historicals in which sexual preference isn’t the primary source of conflicts. I just wish the particular conflicts here had not made me feel like I’d read this book numerous times already.  C+

Sincerely,

Willaful

AmazonBNSonyKoboAREBook DepositoryGoogle

Willaful

Willaful fell in love with romance novels at an early age, but ruthlessly suppressed the passion for years, while grabbing onto any crumbs of romance to be found in other genres. About seven years ago she finally gave in and started reading romance again, and has been trying to catch up with the entire genre ever since. She loves exquisitely written historical romance, intense m/m, and crazy, over the top categories about equally, and hopes to be buried with her e-readers. Look for her on twitter or at her blog at www.willaful.wordpress.com

16 Comments

  1. Carolyne
    Nov 25, 2013 @ 12:01:08

    I’m going to give this a try. I’m in a buying mood, or something–just about every review with an OK grade here lately has made me want to read. The sample chapter was solidly written compared to some atrocious assaults on kindle I’ve tried out recently, and right now I seriously appreciate anything with non-amateurish, well-edited prose.

    I sound much grumpier than I am, I think! I just wrote and didn’t post a scathing review to Amazon for a romance that really riled me up by how screechingly poorly it was written and edited. DNF. A C-plus plot but solid writing skills otherwise will do me just fine right now, and I’ve enjoyed Ava March in the past, so “lots and lots of sex scenes” fluff should keep me entertained until my hardcover copy of Donna Tartt’s The Goldfinch arrives :)

    eta: After reading past the sample, where Max is set up to be quite impressively duke-ish and invincible-feeling, I was surprised to discover that he’s only 23. Maybe that can account for some of his reckless impulsiveness later (I’m still not very far into it, so I don’t know yet how his character develops). He came across to me as about a decade older from the first chapter, but then, mostly all he’s doing is glowering, so I should give him a chance.

    (And it’s just me that’s fascinated by how the cover typography interacts with that man’s nipple-area, yes? Just me? I’ve been looking at way too many book covers and stock photos lately, and it’s affecting my sensibilities.)

    ReplyReply

  2. Willaful
    Nov 25, 2013 @ 12:36:21

    I’m glad you found the review encouraging rather the discouraging… I realized it was awfully complainy for a C+, which to me is a more positive than negative grade, and tried to beef up the positive comments but wasn’t sure I pulled it off. It’s definitely not amateurish!

    Max’s age is generally deceptive — Tristan also thinks he’s 30. Comes from being Duke from a relatively young age, and from how very seriously he takes the role.

    ReplyReply

  3. hapax
    Nov 25, 2013 @ 12:42:31

    @Carolyne: Ha! Now that you mention it, the title really is jotting the tittle!

    ReplyReply

  4. Carolyne
    Nov 25, 2013 @ 13:04:19

    @Willaful: Ah, ok–knowing that the impression he gives of being older is actually addressed in the plot helps!

    I take a C-grade here more seriously than, say, a bunch of 5-and 4-stars on Amazon. “A little better than just average/OK” is a helpful assessment, and your review gives a very clear idea of what the reader will get, for good or not-as-good, and an idea of interesting aspects to watch for. Knowing that there will be a bright, fresh, and slightly surprising ending finally sold me on it. (And did I mention that “lots and lots of sex scenes” is fine for me this week in between heavier fare? I might have mentioned that :) )

    @hapax: I can’t even tell you how much I look forward to the day when I have my own book covers with bare-chested gentlemen and suggestive type placement.

    ReplyReply

  5. Willaful
    Nov 25, 2013 @ 13:07:15

    @Carolyne: Well good! It’s not a selling point for me, but I know it is for some. :-)

    My eyes are so bad now, these finer points visual points are often lost on me — though compensated (?) by some very interesting aka freaky impressions at times.

    ReplyReply

  6. Kaetrin
    Nov 26, 2013 @ 00:02:06

    I’m curious as to how a Duke can get away with a HEA without marrying and producing offspring – did he have a younger brother to inherit?

    ReplyReply

  7. Willaful
    Nov 26, 2013 @ 00:25:03

    No — the issue is kind of ducked. Max makes it clear long before the ending that he won’t be marrying and having children. Given how much responsibility he feels towards his title, it’s not very plausible.

    ReplyReply

  8. Kaetrin
    Nov 26, 2013 @ 00:35:52

    @Willaful: Boo

    ReplyReply

  9. Sunita
    Nov 26, 2013 @ 05:00:47

    Great review, Willaful. Your problems with this book are the same as the ones I had with the couple of stories I’ve read by this author. The characters didn’t act in ways that made sense to me given the historical era, and the whole reason (to me) to read historical m/m, i.e., the external conflicts and real problems such couples would face, is never seriously engaged. But I see March’s books recommended a lot, so I know there are plenty of readers they appeal to.

    ReplyReply

  10. Sirius
    Nov 26, 2013 @ 22:12:43

    Great review willaful – sadly I was bored by this one – lots of sex, not much story.

    ReplyReply

  11. Carolyne
    Nov 27, 2013 @ 06:54:28

    @Sirius: I’m at the 48% point in the story now and am finding the same. I’d actually be OK with the lots-of-sex if that were a source of conflict–maybe Tristan not immediately being accepting of, compatible with, and entirely into Max’s sexual interests, or if Max had to learn to think of his “purchase” as someone worth pleasing. So far the balance is off between conflict (none), character development (a little background given), and perfect sexy funtimes.

    But I’m only halfway through and I’ll keep going and see how I feel by the end. And I’d read this author again. I thoroughly believe I’m reading a real world with real people doing real things (whether or not it’s actually our world); they just might not be the most compelling couple.

    ReplyReply

  12. Willaful
    Nov 27, 2013 @ 11:20:29

    @Carolyne: I’ve enjoyed other March books. Book Street: Thief is probably my favorite. I also really liked Seven Nights to Forever under her Evangeline Collins name. That was kind of a drawback here though, since it’s pretty much an m/f version of this story, but with considerably more conflict.

    ReplyReply

  13. Carolyne
    Nov 27, 2013 @ 12:08:15

    @Willaful: I reached the conflict you quoted in the review, and have read past it, and I’m thinking I’ll set this aside until later and try Book Street: Thief instead. The trilogy is on sale as a set on Amazon, and I’d hope the author would take it as a compliment that I’d temporarily-DNF one of her books but go right to another one. I’m still curious about the ending, but I have to admit, I want to be doing something else with my time.

    ReplyReply

  14. Willaful
    Nov 27, 2013 @ 12:38:58

    @Carolyne: Well, you are certainly brave to put aside one book you got because of my review to pick up another based on my recommendation. ;-) Here’s my review at BookLikes — it sounds not that different from this, in fact. But it’s a novella, which probably helped. http://willaful.booklikes.com/post/208621/brook-street-thief

    ReplyReply

  15. Carolyne
    Nov 27, 2013 @ 14:13:21

    @Willaful: We-e-ell…I like the author’s fluid writing style enough that I’m hoping to see it applied to a plot I’ll like too. Besides, your review ends with “Awwww.” How could I resist? :D

    ReplyReply

  16. Kaetrin
    Nov 27, 2013 @ 17:30:30

    @Willaful: I did not know that Ava March and Evangeline Collins were the same author. Good to know. :)

    ReplyReply

Leave a Reply

Notify me of followup comments via e-mail. You can also subscribe without commenting.

%d bloggers like this: