Sunday, September 29, 2013

Review: What the Duke Desires by Sabrina Jeffries


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Who are the Duke's Men? Tristan Bonnaud and Dominick Manton are half-brothers, together with Tristan's sister, Lisette, they were all disinherited when their father suddenly died and Dominick's spiteful brother, George, inherited the viscountcy. Now, Tristan and Dom work as agents: Tristan for the Surete of France and Dom for his investigation agency in London.

Lisette is 27 and more interested in joining her brothers in their work than in marriage. She serves as the administrative arm in Dom's business but wishes she could go in the field to prove her mettle to her brothers. When Maximillian Cale arrives at Dom's house, demanding to find Tristan, Lisette knows she must step in to protect her brothers.

Maximillian Cale, the Duke of Lyons, couldn't believe the contents of the note he received from Tristan Bonnaud -- his older brother, Peter, alive? While it would mean losing his title, Max is willing to move heaven and earth, including tolerating the presence of a very annoying, very beautiful woman, to find the brother he lost.

When I heard Sabrina Jeffries announce a new series, I was very excited. Her Hellions of Halstead Hall series was a spectacular series and one that I really, really enjoyed. When I read the blurb for What the Duke Desires, and found out that there was a mystery plot to it, I become more interested: Jeffries crafted the mystery in Hellions very well and I wanted to find out how she would top herself.

The family tree at the beginning of What the Duke Desires confused me and the first 35 pages further baffled me: I thought this was about Maximillian Cale and his long-lost brother? Who are the Mantons and the Bonnauds? Then I realized that this was Lisette and Tristan's backstory and so I read on.

Max finally shows up in Chapter 2 and what ensues (after a long discussion on how they would go about traveling and agreeing to pretend to be siblings) is a journey for Max and Lisette to France to find her brother Tristan. I'm not overly fond of travel in my romance novels. It's a lot of stops and eating and description of scenery. (I'm like this in real life as well = impatient traveler.) The author does take away a bit of the tedium by adding another element of mystery: why does Lisette sense that someone is following them? What is the mystery man's purpose in doing so?

Add to that the conversations between Max and Lisette: both are sharp-tongued and imaginative -- and both are unwilling to back down from the challenge presented by the other. There is attraction between the two, but there is also a wariness. Max doesn't have a good opinion of love and marriage and Lisette's own experience with her family has made her cynical. She has no use for a man's promise or desire.

He slicked back his wet hair. "Is that really how you see marriage?"

"As a prison for women? Yes."

"And you see no advantage in it," he said as he came right up to her.

"None."

"What about children?"

"My mother had two. She wasn't married." Though Lisette would never follow that example, she wasn't about to admit it to His High-and-Mighty Grace.

He lifted one arrogant eyebrow. "And you ended up in poverty as a result."

"So did my half-brother, and he was legitimate. ..."
- p. 105

Both of them hold secrets very close to their hearts and it does prevent them from developing a deeper bond. There's a lot of suspicion about truth and lies that adds to the emotional tension between the two.

... He looked suddenly weary, and she wanted nothing more than to comfort him.

But not in front of Vidocq. Her old friend had already guessed too much about her and Max. And why had Max not told her this, anyway?

Because he was a duke. Dukes didn't talk about weakness or illness. They didn't reveal dark secrets about their families.

Still, it hurt that he hadn't felt he could trust her with the knowledge. She remembered what he'd said when she'd asked who the kidnapper was: some blackguard. That left out an awful lot.
- p. 217

The story gains momentum and becomes very interesting when they finally arrive in France and they meet with Eugene Vidocq, Tristan and Lisette's former head at the Surete (p. 210 of 384). This is where the blurb is actually important and where Vidocq, Max and Lisette try to figure out why Tristan would send such a cryptic note to Max and why he never showed up for the meeting. This is the last third of the book -- in that, I felt the story was encumbered by too much backstory, too much setting-up in the first 200 pages of the book. While I appreciated all the information, it also made me impatient to see where the actual story was.

Sabrina Jeffries does manage to tie everything up very neatly in the end and it does result in a satisfactory read. The first 200 pages tests one's commitment to the story but the dedicated reader is rewarded in the end when everything is explained and we finally discover how they became the Duke's Men are.

What the Duke Desires is the first book in Sabrina Jeffries's Duke's Men series. Yes, I will be following this series. I'm most curious about Dominick and Jane Vernon's story. (Jane is briefly mentioned near the end of the book -- p.362 -- as being previously engaged to Dom before he was cut off by his brother.)

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