Narrated by Tim Campbell
The Scottish Duke is the first book in a new series from Karen Ranney, and is set in Victorian Scotland on the estate of the eponymous duke, Alexander Russell, Duke of Kinross. Alex is a scientifically minded gentleman – principally interested in the emerging science of fingerprinting – and on the day the book opens has suffered a big professional disappointment; his work was passed over by the Scottish Society for Scientific Achievement. His plan to hide away, sulk and get extremely drunk is going to be difficult to carry out given that he is hosting a grand, fancy-dress ball that evening, but he’s had enough of polite society and is well on the way to being half-cut when he notices the young woman dressed as Marie Antoinette and is immediately intrigued by her stillness. Unlike everyone else who is busy chatting, flirting and dancing, “Marie” is just taking stock of her surroundings, until their gazes meet and Alex decides it’s time to forego the drink and indulge in another of life’s pleasures.
The daughter of a renowned botanist, Lorna Gordon was forced to take work a maid at Blackhall Castle in order to support herself after her father’s death a couple of years earlier. She is infatuated with the Duke of Kinross, who is quite the handsomest man she has ever seen, and when she finds an old costume in the attics, decides to go to the ball in the hopes of seeing him. Her friend, Nan, tries to discourage her, but Lorna won’t be talked out of it; it’s her only chance of ever experiencing a society ball. And perhaps, getting to see the duke up close.
As things turn out, Lorna gets to do a lot more than see the duke up close; after that initial clash of gazes, he makes his way to her side and soon they’re out on the terrace kissing in the rain and inside on the sofa doing a lot more than kissing. Having realised Lorna was a virgin, Alex afterwards accuses her of targeting him for blackmail and she is aghast; her idol has well-and-truly fallen from his pedestal. With dignity, she puts him in his place, telling him that he must lead a sad, restricted life if he assumes that everyone he meets is out to do him harm – and leaves.
Skipping ahead, it’s some months later – almost nine, to be exact – when Alex’s mother discovers that Lorna is expecting Alex’s child. When she informs Alex that he is to become a father, at first he refuses to believe the child is his. But his mother is adamant, so he goes to visit Lorna – and recognises “Marie”. Heated words are exchanged and Lorna all but throws Alex out, seething at his high-handed questioning of her and their child’s paternity. But when word spreads of his visit, Lorna is shunned and labelled his whore – and it’s then that Alex faces the truth and takes her to live in a cottage on the Blackhall estate.
The dowager duchess is pleased at this turn of events; she likes Lorna and thinks she is good for Alex and decides to encourage a match between them for the good of their child, who could, after all, be Alex’s heir. I had to ask myself at this point why a duchess would ever conceive of and promote such a thing – a match between her son and a mere maid – but this is mostly glossed over for the sake of the plot.
In the month she has lived on the estate, Alex has visited Lorna regularly and they are coming to know each other better. The dowager suggests the idea of marriage to Lorna, who is against it, but at the end of her long labour, she gives in, and she and Alex are married just minutes before their son, Robbie, makes his way into the world.
The Scottish Duke is principally a character-driven story that details Alex’s emotional journey from the aloof, mistrustful man he is at the beginning of the book to one who can open himself up to love and allow others to get close to him. He has strong reasons for being the way he is – he was utterly devastated when his father, brother and sister all died in an influenza epidemic when Alex was sixteen, which naturally left him fearful of those he loved leaving him; plus his first wife was regularly unfaithful to him and died giving birth to a child (who also died) he was not sure was his. His feelings for Robbie and his growing affection for his new wife are completely terrifying and overwhelming, so much so that he scurries away immediately after the birth and remains away from Blackhall for months. He doesn’t want to care so much for anyone else, not after the losses he has suffered, but eventually goes home and realises what he’s missed in not being there for his wife and for his son’s first months. Lorna isn’t about to let him get away with his abandonment and calls him on it, but he eventually admits his mistake and asks to start again so he can do things properly this time.
There is a small sub-plot concerning Alex’s sister-in-law, who is so obsessed with him that she resorts to extreme measures to get his attention, but the book is mostly concerned with the relationship between Alex and Lorna and Alex’s gradual transformation. They’re a likeable, well-matched couple, and I liked Lorna’s openness and strength of character – she certainly needed it sometimes, in the face of Alex’s emotional reticence and inability to trust.
I’ve listened to and reviewed Tim Campbell a couple of times in the past. He’s an experienced narrator – a search at Audible shows 135 titles to his credit, and quite a few of those are historical romances set in the UK. But his performance here is a mixed bag, and I’m sorry to say that my criticisms of this are exactly the same as the ones I made of the other audiobooks I reviewed. On the plus side, he’s an excellent voice actor; he imbues both narrative and dialogue with just the right amount of expression, his pacing is very good, and he differentiates effectively between all the characters of both sexes without pitching the females too high. I was also very pleasantly surprised by the quality of his Scottish accents; for a non-Brit, he does a pretty good job with them overall, although the rolled “r”s are overdone. The biggest problem though, is the sheer number of mispronunciations throughout. Here’s what I said in my review of What a Rogue Wants in October 2014:
As I listened, I realised that these [mispronunciations] tend to focus around certain letters and sounds. When words contain the letter “A” – pronounced as in “cat” – it is incorrectly pronounced “AH”; so instead of “fancy”, we get “fah-ncy”; “dash” comes out as “dahsh” and “grand” as “grahnd”. And words containing the letter “U”- pronounced as in “tug” – are instead pronounced using the “oo” sound as in “pool”. So “pulse” sounds like “poolse” and “gulp” sounds like “goolp”. And then there are the words which are commonly mispronounced, such as “Aunt”, which is pronounced “ont” and “Calm”, which comes out as “com” or “colm”.
It took me ages to work out what a “Comfrey Bomb” was, and why it was good for arthritis – until I realised it was actually Comfrey BALM.
And the same things apply here. I’m convinced these problems stem from the fact that while Mr. Campbell does a very good English accent, he’s not British (American, I’m guessing?). He manages to get it right 80% of the time, but it’s frustrating to be levelling exactly the same criticisms – two years on – at a narrator who is otherwise very good and whose acting ability is actually much greater than my final grade would suggest.
Once I’d adjusted my expectations and was prepared for the mispronunciations, I did enjoy listening to The Scottish Duke, and would cautiously recommend it to historical romance fans. The story is a simple one, but it’s well put-together and strongly characterised; and while the narration is flawed, Mr. Campbell’s pleasant voice and acting talent are a definite plus.
Book Content: B
Steam Factor: Glad I had my earbuds in
Violence Rating: None
Genre: Historical Romance
Publisher: Harper Audio
The Scottish Duke was provided to AudioGals by Harper Audio for a review.