1.5 out of 5 stars
Cut to the Chase:
We start with a highwayman robbing a dowager duchess and her poor, gently bred companion. The dowager duchess is a steely old woman, who instantly (despite the mask, and the darkness of the night) recognizes the robber as her potential (long-lost, never-even-suspected-he-might-exist) grandson. This very far-fetched beginning is probably one of the best parts of the book, which really says something. There’s plenty of witty dialogue and banter, and the clever wordplay that Quinn is famous for (thus the 1.5 star, as opposed to… 0). What it doesn’t have is character development, a romantic journey, and half of the story (more on that later). There were some truly excellent scenes, and the beginning (despite how crazy of a start it is) was actually kind of enjoyable. But… a few chapters in, the scenes started to drag, the story seems to lose its focus, and then, suddenly, the book is over, and tied up with a cute epilogue. Argh.
John Audley (formerly John Cavendish, formerly John Cavendish-Audley) is a soldier turned highwayman. One night, he happens to rob a woman who ends up being his grandmother, the dowager Duchess of Wyndham.
Despite the fact that it’s late at night, and his face is covered with a mask, and he speaks with a bit of an Irish accent, the dowager duchess is instantly convinced that John (who prefers to go by Jack) is her long dead second son’s son. Nevermind that she never even knew her second son had married. Or that her second son died almost three decades ago. She’s convinced… and the kicker is, she ends up being right!!!
Which is a bit of a problem. It means that her current grandson, Thomas (for whom she apparently feels NO affection) isn’t the actual duke, as Thomas’s father was her third son, and that Jack, who prefers a wandering life, is suddenly going to be a duke, with all of its ducal properties and responsibilities.
The setup is a bit convoluted, as is the rest of the book.
We’ve got Amelia, who’s the daughter of an earl and is engaged to the “future Duke of Wyndham” (meaning she thought she was engaged to Thomas, but now her father thinks she should be engaged to Jack).
We’ve got Thomas, who mostly just glowers and thinks highly of himself and then gets drunk… a lot.
And we’ve got our female protagonist who waffles between being portrayed as a bit of doormat and a girl who really does have a spunky, fierce side, and also is the love interest of both Jack (that part was obvious as they kiss almost right away, and are portrayed as having some kind of attraction) and, briefly… Thomas?? (which made NO sense).
So, my problems with this book are plentiful:
1. The love story between the two never felt real. I believed the initial attraction, and there’s even some witty banter about paintings at the very beginning of the book, and then the romantic progression just stops, because there are too many other characters and sideplots for the romance to be given any attention.
2. Also, none of the side plots feel real or weighty. Thomas and Amelia are obviously getting a sequel (which isn’t a sequel, it’s a companion book, with all the same events, written from a different perspective), but here, they’re in the scenes enough to be annoying and one-dimensional, but not enough to feel real or even contribute.
3. The scenes that you wanted to see were never written — like Thomas and Jack getting to know each other? I want to see that. My main characters falling in love — you know, the reason for my getting a romance to read? I want to read that! Instead, I have page after page of cutesy dialogue (some of which is legitimately funny, and some of which just DRAGS and is eye-roll-inducing) about nothing in particular, which is extraordinarily annoying as there’s so much plot that needs to be resolved.
I’m also, I won’t lie, super-annoyed that I now have to track down and read the companion book because half of the plot has been left not-completely resolved…
Comparisons to Other Authors/Books:
Julia Quinn made a name for herself by being a clever, smart writer who had a wonderfully deft hand, especially for creating memorable heroes and heroines with sparkling dialog. I don’t know what’s happened to her, lately, and you can read more about my thoughts of her here.