I spent my Saturday trawling through 4000+ titles on the DC Public Library's downloadable media page, looking for an intriguing romance to enjoy on my weekend. I learned several things: most of them all look and sound exactly alike, and the ones that stood out to me must have stood out to everyone else, too, because they weren't available. That said, I finally settled on a 7-book bundle of Sally MacKenzie's Naked Nobility series, because hey, seven books in one checkout? Not too bad. The descriptions of the plots sounded a bit contrived but I was willing to put up with that if the stories were good. So I downloaded it, and off I went.
The first book in the Naked Nobility series, The Naked Duke, stars native Philadelphian Sarah Hamilton, who has just arrived in England after her dying father expressed his wish for her to go live with her uncle. She gets off the stage too late to go to her uncle's residence, so looks for a room at an inn, only to have the innkeeper refuse her because he thinks she's a prostitute. She's seemingly saved when someone apparently recognizes her and gives her a room. Except it's not really her room, it's the room of James Runyon, the Duke of Alvord, who is surprised to find a girl (who he also thinks is a prostitute) in his bed. He lets her sleep out of pity for prostitutes in general, but in the morning begins macking on her straightaway, and of course she enjoys it (before she fully wakes up, at which point she wallops him with a pillow) and of course they get caught. Sarah has now been Ruined. James is not opposed to this because it means he's honor-bound to marry her and he didn't really want to marry the girl he was going to propose to out of necessity anyway, but since Sarah is so opposed to the idea he agrees to put off the engagement, as long as no one else finds out about her ruination, as long as she agrees to let him try to woo her, which she does.
This was MacKenzie's first novel, and it shows. The plot is exactly as contrived as I thought it was going to be; I mean, randomly ending up naked in bed with a duke? I think not. I was willing to let that go, given that the writing seemed good, there was some witty banter, and James and Sarah seemed like alright people...but. BUT. There's a subplot. Of course there is. This subplot is the reason that James was in a hurry to marry: his cousin Richard wants him dead so that he can inherit the dukedom he sees as his. James' and Richard's fathers were identical twins, and while Richard's father never questioned his brother's right to the dukedom, Richard does, and he is determined to kill James to get it, and before James has an heir. Richard is also very, very rapey. This is a rapey book, and it came as a bit of a shock given the relatively lighthearted events surrounding the rapey bits. Richard or his goons either rape or attempt to rape someone multiple times. It's...ugh. It's icky, really. And the consequences of this, psychologically, are never really put out there and dealt with, which makes the whole rape business feel like a cheap trick thrown in for pure shock value. There wasn't really any reason that rape had to come in to it at all; couldn't the whole "murder" thing have just continued? It really put me off, and I wasn't sure what to think of this at all.
Additionally, I felt like the end of the book kind of just fell apart, like all of the tension and chemistry had just suddenly disappeared. It left the end a bit "blah" feeling, and I wasn't really thrilled about that. There'd been banter and crazy relatives and mistaken identity, and it all just came to a very lackluster ending.
I have the other six books in this series on my Kindle courtesy of that library bundle, so I'm going to keep reading for now and hope that some of the problems present in The Naked Duke resolve themselves; as I mentioned before, this MacKenzie's first novel, so I'm hoping she learned from experience and has something a bit more polished as her second work. But for this one...
2.5 stars out of 5.