Lenora Bell’s Blame It on the Duke has some fascinating points to it, and it takes a standard romance novel plot and makes it feel new again.
The marriage of convenience or forced marriage shows up often in historical romance novels. Granted, it still isn’t as common as ending a story with marrying off the protagonists, but it’s not uncommon either. Lenora Bell’s Blame It on the Duke takes the forced marriage idea and manages to spice it up.
It just so happens that Alice Tombs has started a translation project … of the Kama Sutra. (Historically speaking, this book is just post-Regency, but it seems the first translation of the book into English actually appeared in 1883.) Naturally, when a wager leads her to marry Nicolas, Marquess of Hatherly, she doesn’t want to fall in love. However, she does want some pointers to improve her translation, as you may expect.
Overall, yours truly gives Blame It on the Duke 3.5/5 stars. Although it takes a standard concept and reworks it in a new way, the supporting cast didn’t work quite as well, and it feels almost unbalanced.
As you may have already gathered, I enjoyed Bell’s reworking of the forced marriage and arrangement not to fall in love plots. Nick doesn’t gamble himself away. Instead, his father, the titular duke, does.
Enjoyably, Alice doesn’t give up her work and passion once she gets married or starts having feelings for Nick. It would be easy to have her focus entirely on his side story or his family issues, but no, she keeps on translating. Pointedly, Bell includes quotations from the Kama Sutra at the start of each chapter that suggest the theme of each chapter. Alice also faces some issues of being a woman doing this sort of work, and Bell doesn’t brush them aside or downplay them. She’s an intelligent character, and she has a wide range of interests. That helps make her an appealing heroine.
Meanwhile, Nick himself ends up as quite the charming protagonist. He certainly starts the book out in the common rake stereotype, but as his feelings develop, he does comment on how he’s changing as well. Indeed, both he and Alice change and have emotional arcs throughout the novel, something I enjoyed.
Between the love story, Alice’s ongoing plot with the Kama Sutra translation, Nick’s story with his father, there are already three threads to follow. Bell then throws in a few more as well, meaning that there’s a lot to balance, and often it feels like there isn’t enough time spent on one of them. (We shan’t spoil them.) They are at least connected to the larger arcs overall, but they’re still subplots to subplots.
Additionally, because there are so many subplots, there are a lot of supporting characters, some of whom only show up for a few scenes. They do contribute to the story. However, some of them feel rather superfluous and don’t quite work for me. I wanted to see more of certain characters that only featured in one or two scenes. Although yours truly doesn’t always like seeing characters from the previous series, they felt pretty underused here as well.
Blame It on the Duke has a particularly intelligent heroine in Alice Tombs, a self-aware hero, and a lot of different subplots. If you like the first two, it’s certainly worth a read, and you may like all the things Bell touches on.
You can find Blame it on the Duke at your favorite purveyor of romance novels.