on May 13, 2009
If anything, Liz Carlyle can certainly write. Even when the story she tells isn't quite as well put together, her prose sweeps you up and places you right in the minds of her characters. Never Deceive a Duke picks up right after Never Lie to a Lady, after Gareth Lloyd's unrequited love, Xanthia Neville, heroine of NLL, has been married off to Lord Nash. Gareth isn't too pleased, and things just keep getting worse when he finds out he's inherited a dukedom upon the death of his cousin. There's bad blood between Gareth and the former duke, which comprises a twisted family history of murder(s), anti-Semitism, betrayal, and abuse. Gareth has tried to put all that behind him, embracing his life as a shipping magnate and unofficially adopted brother to Xanthia and her brother - they're all three of them joint owners of Neville Shipping. Gareth's tortured past comes rushing painfully back to him once he's forced to very reluctantly join the unwelcoming aristocracy and assume responsibility for his estate. This includes meeting and deciding what to do about the dowager duchess, the former duke's widow, Antonia. She happens to have a whole boatload of baggage of her own, which makes them quite a depressed/depressing pair.
Never Deceive a Duke is a pretty good read. Its pacing falters at times, but not too badly. There's a murder mystery, which develops into several murder mysteries, actually, and this aspect of the plot seemed well constructed. Though things did a little complicated near the end, when it seemed like everyone and their mother had been murdered at some point. The ubiquitous George Kemble makes an appearance here. He's called in to do all the dirty work and get to the bottom of the former duke's death. There have been nasty rumors that Antonia did him in for her own gain, and Gareth, having instantly taken a shine to her, wants her name cleared. I love George Kemble. He's hilarious, but still chillingly dangerous, and steals the show every time.
As for the romance, it was unbalanced at best. Gareth I really liked. He's a very tortured guy. The flashbacks prefacing each chapter provide powerful, moving vignettes of his childhood, the difficulties of being raised between two worlds, neither fully Jewish, nor accepted into the English aristocracy. I've never come across a Jewish hero before, and I think that through the flashbacks this aspect of his character was well drawn. He's a unique character. The extent and depth of his pain, what he's suffered, isn't readily apparent. The way in which his character is thus layered and gradually explored was skillfully handled, and my favorite part of the book. Gareth quietly suffers throughout, never wallowing in self pity. He's a very strong, very appealing hero.
Antonia, while equally tortured, is more pathetic than noble in her suffering. She's basically a depressed, shattered, shadow of her former self, having undergone a nervous breakdown and been committed to an insane asylum. This was before her marriage to the former duke, which took place barely a year after her first husband's death, which had precipitated her mental collapse. She's also exiled from society because of all the nasty murder rumors. I thought it was really interesting to have a heroine purported to be mad, after coming across so many supposedly mad heroes. Maybe madness is sexier in men or something... who knows. Either way, Antonia fits into the woman in white role perfectly - fragile, not quite all there, sad, weak, and broken. Unfortunately, the romance suffers for her overriding weakness, because Gareth has to take care of her the whole time, despite her protestations that she's getting stronger and starting to know her own mind. Their conversations sound like therapy sessions as Gareth dispenses pearls of wisdom and tries to piece Antonia back together. (I have to mention, even though it's nitpicking, that their conversations bugged the hell out of me though because Gareth kept saying Antonia's name over and over again. Every sentence it was, "Well, Antonia..." "Did you know, Antonia..." "I think, Antonia...) Anyway, his protectiveness towards her, the way he lays himself completely at her feet and becomes her white knight of sorts really is romantic and noble, but also sad - both for her and for him. She doesn't develop enough as a character - she stays pretty weak throughout, which means that, even though she grows to depend upon Gareth, he can't do the same with her, and so he has no one to heal him in turn. Never Deceive a Duke was very readable, (despite my complaint about the obsessive repetition of Antonia's name,) with a great hero, and an interesting mystery. The romance though, was a bit of a disappointment.