Narrated by Marian Hussey
The Forbidden Duke is the first book in Darcy Burke’s The Untouchables series, so named because the heroes are all men whose highly elevated positions in society make them unattainable by any but ladies of the highest station and put them most definitely beyond the reach of the heroines… supposedly.
I’ve read and enjoyed a couple of the later books in the series, so when this one popped up at Audible, I thought I’d give it a go; I haven’t read it and narrator Marian Hussey is always reliable.
Eleanor – Nora – Lockhart is twenty-seven and regards herself as being firmly on the shelf. During her second London Season several years earlier, she was found in the arms of a young man she erroneously believed was going to marry her and was forced to return home, her reputation in tatters. She has lived quietly with her father ever since, but now faces the prospect of becoming homeless due to his having lost a large sum of money in a poorly judged investment. They will have to sell their modest home, and while her father is going to go to live with his sister, there is no room for Nora and she has no other option but to seek employment. Fortunately for her, she lands well and truly on her feet first time out, securing a position as companion to the kindly Lady Sattersfield, who is willing to overlook Nora’s past and ruined reputation and give her a second chance.
Lady Sattersfield’s stepson, Titus St. John, Duke of Kendal has acquired the moniker “The Forbidden Duke” owing to the fact that he is something of a recluse and rarely ventures into society. One of those rare occasions is his stepmother’s annual ball, where he dances just once, with a young lady who needs a bit of a ‘leg up’ in society, as his notice will guarantee she has partners for the rest of the ball and throughout the Season. But Kendal wasn’t always a conscientious friend to wallflowers; no, in his younger days he was a terrible rake and ran with a wild crowd of young bucks who were infamous for their exploits with women, their drunken carousing, reckless wagering and high-stakes gaming. It wasn’t until his father’s death, coupled with the discovery that he had unwittingly had a hand in the ruin of an innocent young woman by one of his set that brought him up short and saw him turn his back on his wastrel ways.
But the past has a way of coming back to bite one in the behind when least expected, which happens to Kendal when he attends one of Lady Satterfield’s teas and comes face to face with her new companion. He recognises Nora as the young woman he had encouraged one of his friends to seduce and is deeply ashamed of his part in the affair. He might not have been the man she was caught kissing, but he feels as responsible as if he had been.
It’s not difficult to guess where this is headed, and Ms. Burke makes a good job of developing the relationship between Kendal and Nora, showing him gradually coming out of his shell around her. But there is very little conflict in the story; Kendal’s guilt over his part in Nora’s ruin is dealt with quite quickly – and refreshingly sensibly, I have to admit – and there is an odd last-minute action by a secondary character that didn’t make much sense, but otherwise, it’s a simple, undemanding listen featuring an engaging, if not especially deeply characterised, central couple.
It’s a relatively short listen, too, coming in at around five and a half hours, but I think the characterisation is a casualty of the running time, with Kendal, in particular, suffering as a result of the books’ shorter length. We’re repeatedly reminded that he has chosen to remove himself from society; that he’s aloof and enigmatic, but not enough time is devoted to explaining exactly WHY he’s the way he is. The death of his father is one reason cited, but while I can understand that might have made Kendal a more responsible individual, it doesn’t account for his complete withdrawal from society. We’re asked to believe that his shame at what happened to Nora was another major factor, but I didn’t really buy it.
I also have several reservations about Nora’s situation. In just about every historical romance novel I’ve read in which the heroine is forced to seek employment, she absolutely, positively must have two things – an unblemished reputation and good references. Nora has neither, and frankly I found it unbelievable that the employment agency she approached didn’t show her the door, let alone send her on an actual interview – with the stepmother of a duke no less!
Lady Satterfield is a delightfully enlightened woman and her willingness to give Nora a chance is admirable. There’s no question that she sees Nora as a kind of surrogate daughter, but even so, the fact that she decides to sponsor her for a Season within just a few days of meeting her pretty much put the final nail in the coffin of my already beleaguered sense of plausibility. I’m surprised, actually, because these are the sorts of mistakes I might expect to find being made by a beginner, not someone with several good historical romances already under her belt.
Fortunately, I didn’t have as many issues with the narration as with the story itself, because Marian Hussey acquits herself very well, and will, I hope, remain with the series should Ms. Burke continue with it in audio. Ms. Hussey’s mezzo-range voice is nicely modulated and easy on the ear and her narration is well-paced, clearly enunciated and effectively differentiated; characters are skilfully portrayed according to gender, age and station by the employment of a variety of tone, pitch and timbre. The last time I listened to this narrator, I noted one or two irritating vocal ticks, the most distracting of which was her tendency to add a syllable to the ends of words in dialogue spoken by the male characters by puffing out a breath so that a sentence like “What are you doing?” came out as “What are you doing-AH?” I don’t know if that’s the result of having to sustain a lower pitch for any length of time or just a habit (!), but fortunately, while it’s not been not completely eradicated, it doesn’t happen very often here and seems to be on the way out.
This isn’t my favourite book in the series – that would be the most recent, The Duke of Desire – but The Forbidden Duke passed the time agreeably enough, with Marian Hussey’s accomplished and engaging narration being a considerable asset. The other books in the series boast stronger storylines than this one, so I’ll be keeping an eye out for their release in audio format.
Book Content: C+
Steam Factor: Glad I had my earbuds in
Violence Rating: None
Genre: Historical Romance
Publisher: Darcy E. Burke Publishing
The Forbidden Duke was provided to AudioGals for a review.