Narrated by Ashford MacNab
I had pegged Kelly Bowen as an author to watch last year after I read and enjoyed her second book, A Good Rogue is Hard to Find, so I was pleased to see there was an audio version of Duke of My Heart, the first book in her new A Season for Scandal series. Ms Bowen is an excellent storyteller with a deftly humorous touch, and she has the knack for creating memorable and engaging characters, things she puts to good effect in her latest novel.
Maximus Harcourt, Duke of Alderidge, never expected to become a duke. A third son, his parents made it very clear that as such, he was going to have to make his own way in the world, which he did, going to sea aged thirteen. Now in his thirties, he spends most of his life at sea commanding his ship and his merchant fleet, having amassed himself a fortune in the process. Even after the deaths of his father and older brothers, Max continues to work and run his business from his ship or on foreign soil, feeling himself to be singularly unsuited to assume the mantle of a peer of the realm. Physically imposing, stern and used to command, he is floored when he arrives home for the first time in years to discover a dead earl tied to his younger sister’s bed, his sister missing and an unknown, attractive but rather bossy woman trying to order him about.
Miss Ivory Moore announces that she has been summoned by Max’s aunt, Lady Helen, and is representing Chagarre and Associates, a company well known throughout the ton for its ability to neutralise scandal, salvage reputations and fix the seemingly unfixable. She immediately sets about putting Max’s sudden appearance to good use. He has arrived in the middle of Lady Beatrice’s coming-out ball, and his unexpected presence will be an excellent distraction while Ivory puts her plans into action. Max isn’t happy, but recognises the need to act quickly in order to save his sister’s reputation and decides to do as he is asked. For now. Because unlike the majority of Ivory’s clients, Max isn’t content to sit back, wait for news and then simply pay the bills.
Though their relationship doesn’t get off to the best of starts, Max soon comes to realise that Ivory knows what she’s doing and begins to trust her. Even so, they continue to disagree about methods; where Ivory is all for subtlety, Max wants to rush ahead all guns blazing, his desperation indicative of his guilt over the fact that his sister might be in danger and he wasn’t there to protect her. He had believed that leaving Beatrice in the care of their aunt while he continued to live as before was the best thing for her – but her disappearance causes him to reassess his actions and motives, forcing him to face up to the fact that he has been shirking his responsibilities, both towards his family and his title.
Both Ivory and Max are likeable, well-rounded characters who have good reasons for acting as they do. Max isn’t quite your average, ducal hunk; he’s grumpy and dour, but is gradually revealed to have a dry sense of humour and is genuinely devoted to his sister. He’s a nice mix of authority and vulnerability, and a good match for Ivory, who needs to be reminded that it isn’t a weakness to want to have someone with whom to share one’s burdens. In a genre overpopulated with overlooked wallflowers, downtrodden governesses and headstrong debutantes, Ivory Moore is rather a unique character; and while the idea of her as a society spin-doctor in 1819 is perhaps somewhat far-fetched, I nonetheless appreciated Ms Bowen’s attempt to do something a little different and introduce an independently-minded woman into a story without making her into an on-the-shelf bluestocking. She’s a woman who can take care of herself and who is quite content with her life the way it is, even though her path hasn’t been an easy one and she has had much to overcome on the way.
My one big niggle with the story is that the ending is a little weak. Ivory makes a devil’s bargain in order to save Lady Beatrice, and of course Max rides gallantly to her rescue. But subsequent events show that this was unnecessary, which made the whole thing rather anti-climactic, and I felt rather cheated that Max was denied the opportunity to rescue his lady, when for most of the book, she’s been the one doing the rescuing.
On the whole, however, the romance is well-developed, and there’s the real sense that theirs is a relationship of equals. Max and Ivory are drawn to each other from the outset, but the author takes her time to build up the tension between them, leading to some sensual, sexy moments which are all the better for our having waited for them.
Ashford MacNab is known to many as the voice of Elizabeth Hoyt’s Maiden Lane series, and as I generally enjoy listening to her, I was pleased to have the chance to hear her narrating another author’s work. Her performance is accomplished and enjoyable, and although her vocal range isn’t particularly impressive in terms of pitch, I do like the degree of emotion with which she imbues her narrations. Her portrayals of Max and Ivory are good and completely consistent with the characters as they are written, Ivory’s calm unflappability contrasting strongly with Max’s more dynamic and frequently snappish pronouncements. The only criticism I have here is that if, as I have, you have listened to one or more Maiden Lane books recently, it might be difficult to divorce Max from whichever of Ms Hoyt’s heroes you last listened to, as I’m afraid that Ms MacNab’s heroes do tend to sound the same – clipped and slightly nasal in tone – from book to book. That didn’t spoil my enjoyment of this one, but the comparison is inevitable.
The various secondary characters are well differentiated, both narrative and dialogue are well-paced and expressive, and Ms MacNab makes good use of a variety of accents and dialects. It’s a strong performance overall, and, combined with a fast-moving and entertaining story, Duke of My Heart is definitely an audiobook I’d recommend if you’re looking for an historical that is just a little bit different from the norm.
Book Content: B
Steam Factor: Glad I had my earbuds in
Violence Rating: None
Genre: Historical Romance
Publisher: Hachette Audio
Duke of My Heart was provided to AudioGals by Hachette Audio for a review.