Review, The Lost Duke of Wyndham, Julia Quinn

Cover comment: Holy clavicles, Batman! The female cover model is Norwegian/Egyptian model/soap actress Ewa Da Cruz (there was a cover story on the book in Soap Opera Digest). The male is the ubiquitous Nathan Kamp.

Series?: Yes, it is Book 1 of the Two Dukes of Wyndham. Book 2, Mr. Cavendish, I Presume, is out at the end of this month.

Word on the Web:

Jayne, Dear Author, B

Romance Rookie, Jill D., B

Lynne Spencer, AAR, A-

Smart Bitches, mixed (review of both this and its sequel)

Mary Benn, The Romance Reader, 4 hearts

Ana, Book Smugglers, 9

Marg, TGTBTU, B+

Sandy M, TGTBTU, A-

Devon, TGTBTU, B-

Lawson, TGTBTU, B

What Kate’s Reading, very positive

Animegirl, 4 out of 5

Anne Glover, Regency Reader, negative

A detailed mixed review in a thread on a discussion board here.

Long AAR thread with very mixed reactions here., 3 stars after 97 reviews

My Take in Brief: It’s half a book, and not an especially good one, at full price.

I look forward to reading every new romance I get my hands on, but I panted after this one. This was my fifth Quinn novel, having read and thoroughly enjoyed 4 of the Bridgerton books.

To me, Julia Quinn represents, on the author side, what blogs like Dear Author and Smart Bitches, Trashy Books represent on the reader side: proof that intelligent women can produce and read romance. (Why did I think otherwise? I’m clearly not very intelligent.)

It’s not because Quinn got her undergrad degree at an Ivy League university (I work with a number of pretty unimpressive people who did the same, sorry to say), but because her books are beautifully written, with subtle and realistic characterizations. I have no idea if they are historically accurate, but I couldn’t care less, because, to me, Quinn’s books reveal a timeless kind of insight, curiosity, and sensibility about human relationships. At the top of her form, I personally think Quinn is one of the best the genre has to offer. Even better, Quinn assumes the reader is smart enough to follow along, which I really appreciate. (Compare a line from another book I am currently reading: “She ran her hands through his perfectly coiffed hair, with not a hair out of place.” Um, I know what “perfectly coiffed” means. But thanks a bunch for the assist.)

It may have been those high expectations, paradoxically, that led to my disappointment in this book. Reading LDOW made me wonder, only half jokingly, if I should handicap my reviews. I wondered if I was being too hard on Quinn. If this had been a book by a newcomer I had never heard of, would I have been so disappointed? Certainly not, because my expectations would have been lower. So take this review in that context.

It’s been months since I read LDOW. But the sequel, Mr. Cavendish, I Presume, is upon us, so I thought it would be a good opportunity to revisit LDOW. I didn’t reread it cover to cover, but I skimmed it. And my reaction is still mixed at best.

When we meet Jack, he is a highwayman, robbing the Dowager Duchess of Wyndham and our heroine, Grace Eversleigh. Despite the fact that (a) he is masked and it is dark, (b) she has never laid eyes on him, and (c) he has shown up in the very last place, doing the very last thing she would ever expect, the dowager immediately identifies Jack as the son of her late beloved son, the lost duke of the title. A lot of folks had problems with this, and it is totally unbelievable, but you know what? It’s the first scene in a long book, and if I don’t go with it, I may as well quit now. Another thing folks didn’t like was the fact that Jack was a robber (albeit for quasi-altruistic reasons), and an unrepentant one to boot, and while I wouldn’t want any kid of mine hooking up with a thief, I let it pass.

The strongest feature of the book is the relationship between Jack and Grace, which is really touching, despite being more or less love at first sight for both of them.  Jack is one of my favorite kind of heroes, the “devil may care” self-deprecating type, always ready with a witty remark, while Grace is mature, level-headed, and sweet. She’s really the stronger one in the relationship, and that’s nice to see.

Still, I had a number of problems with this book:

1. The writing. For some reason — there are a lot of — em dashes — giving this book a very  — telegraphic — feel. Here’s an example: “So instead she smiled — warmly even.” Or this one, “‘No! Don’t ruin it!’, he cried out — as best he could without exploding with laughter.” And even without the dashes, there are a lot of one sentence paragraphs, two word sentences, and generally a very choppy feeling to the book. It read, to me, like a shortcut to Quinn’s trademark levity and humor that didn’t quite work.

2. The characters don’t acquire proof that Jack is the duke until the end, but the reader knows from the very start that he is. As a result, the dramatic tension wears thin very quickly. Every time a character has a thought, they have it twice: once on the assumption that Jack is not the duke, then again on the assumption that he is. Moreover, the question of whether Jack is the duke, and what it means for various characters, is pretty much all anyone talks about for the entire book. It’s not an exciting read, to say the least.

3. The main characters’ motivations are unconvincing. Jack doesn’t want to be a duke. For most of the book, we are expected to buy this, in spite of the fact that the alternative is “genteel robbery”, because he is a carefree soul. Um, how about selfish, aimless, and immature? Way too late, the reader finds out that Jack has a secret, but instead of making his reluctance more believable, it is one of those frustrating cases of the hero unfairly blaming himself for someone else’s misfortune (The words “Get over yourself” came to mind more than once). As for Grace, she doesn’t want to marry a hot duke who is in love with her, to spare him the scandal of marrying someone of “impeccable but undistinguished birth”. Like no one in the ton will raise an eyebrow about this long-lost-son-former-highwayman if she stays out of it?

4. The deposed duke, Thomas Cavendish, and his fiancee, Amelia, pop in and out of the book in an odd and jarring way. I couldn’t figure this out at all when I read LDOW: I knew they were more than just a secondary couple, but there were large gaps in the narrative of their relationship. Well, as every one in the world but me knew, there is a second book, Mr. Cavendish, I Presume, about them, the events of which take place concurrently with those of LDOW.

According to some early reviews, MCIP is even more repetitive than LDOW, but I still love Ms. Quinn, so I have it on preorder and am keeping my fingers crossed.

Published in: on September 11, 2008 at 10:43 am  Comments (8)  
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8 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. OOOOO no. I am sorry you didn’t like it so much. This is one of my favorite books of 2008! and I already read Mr Cavendish, and think it is equaly as good, if not better. (I am thinking of giving it a 10, we shall see).

    I didn’t see the fact that we knew Jack was a duke as non-exciting because the book to me, was not really about that , it was about what would it mean to both these men and this is where I disagree with you the most, I loved reading about their motivations and was intrigued about the “big secret” and I thought it was rather a reasonable excuse for Jack being the way he was.

    But I completely agree with you on Julia Quinn – she is one of the best and one of my favorite romance novel writers.

  2. After finishing The Lost Duke of Wyndham, I thought it a typical “meh” book (C or 3/5). I had nearly the some problems with it like you and when I thought about them, I was inclined to go down with my grade. Only difference: I thought it easy to read. But English is not my fist language so that’s not a real measure. 🙂

    I thought Thomas the most interesting character, but after what you wrote about MCIP and some other things I read, I’ll wait for more reviews before I buy it.

    I like Ana’s comment that the focus of the story is on what Jack being the duke would mean to Jack and Thomas. I don’t think I saw it that way when I read it, but it’s interesting. Thanks.

  3. Ana,

    My opinion is the small minority (Taja notwithtanding!), and I do appreciate your point about the suspense not really being suspense for its own sake, but to provide internal conflict for the characters. Still, I personally felt like the same issues were rehashed in thought, word, and deed over and over.

    I was actually more interested in Thomas and Amelia when I read LDOW, so maybe I will really like MCIP. Your comments make me think I just might!

  4. ???!!! Oh, I’m so sorry you didn’t like this as much as I did!

    I can absolutely concede to a few points – the choppiness, for one, takes some getting used to. Since this was my first Julia Quinn book I thought it was a personal, stylistic thing, but having read another Quinn since then, I can see your point. There are lots of parentheticals.

    And I do agree with Ana that the dramatic tension wasn’t so much the is he a duke/is he not a duke, but more between Jack and Thomas, then Jack and Grace.

    I liked the humor in it very much – I haven’t seen that so much in historicals, but it seemed appropriate and contextual, especially with the cranky dowager duchess whose heart is in fact not made of gold. And I particularly got a hoot out of Ms Quinn’s use of art history (obvious per my review) – I’ve read some really crap romances before that try to utilize art history but it’s clear that the author didn’t get past AH101 or really didn’t do their homework. Ms Quinn’s art historical context really stood out to me.

    That said, Thomas and Amelia were really quite jarring, though I suppose I gave them a lot of leeway since I knew their book was coming. I’ll still pick up MCIP as soon as it drops.

    Good review!

  5. Hi Kate,

    I loved your discussion of the use of art in the novel, and I agree that was done really well. If I knew anything about art, it would make an interesting post to look at a few other books that do this. I’m thinking of Meredith Duran’s The Duke of Shadows, or Jo Goodman’s If His Kiss is Wicked.

  6. I didn’t like this book either. Thomas was more interesting than Jack, so hopefully Mr. Cavendish I Presume will be better.

    I LOVED Julia Quinn’s earlier books, but her last 3 haven’t done much for me. I was surprised when she got the Rita for On the Way to the Wedding and Secret Diaries. I was actually quite pleased to see all the less than favorabe reviews on Amazon for LDOW.

  7. Hi Laura,

    Thanks for visiting! I think some of the reviews of this one at Amazon are terrific. There was one long critical one in particular that was beautifully done.

    I haven’t read the later Quinn’s due to mixed reviews, although I may read them just to feed my anal “completeness” demon.

    I just read a great review of Mr. Cavendish over at Book Smugglers, and I am feeling newly optimistic about that one.

  8. […] I don’t think that’s all there is to it. I’ve wondered in my reviews whether it’s fair to make a great author compete against herself, and I am […]

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