So, I read this historical romance that sounded interesting because it has a cross-dressing duke and I was curious how an author would make that work.
SPOILERS abound, so do not read further if you plan to read the book and don't like SPOILERS
Anyway, meet Lydia, who is not the heroine, but her sister and who is committing adultery with the cross-dressing duke (CDD) because she's afraid of her big, clumsy husband who reminds her of her daddy who liked her a bit too much even though he never touched her. All of which we don't find out until 200+ pages into the book. Yeah, that made loads of sense to me, too.
Lydia is also super mean to her ugly, 28yo sister, Kit, who has a crooked nose and crippled hand and a coarse pelt of hair, because she hates her as her then 14yo sister didn't try harder to take her away from daddy (hey, Kit only got beaten to a pulp by daddy dearest, but she should have stood up to him, right?)
Kit is in London much against her will because she doesn't think her bro, Tom, will take good care of the pigs while she's gone and she really doesn't want to be at balls so she's totally rude to the suitors her sister presents her to. Then one evening she decides to spy on a guy having sex with another woman on the piano and she's horrified because he is totally not there while he fucks that woman. And she had met the guy earlier and liked him and now she's all disappointed that he's not there when having sex.
Hence, Kit leaves to go back home to make sure the pigs are taken care of, but the guy she liked and then didn't like blackmails her into taking him with her to her home and he turns up dressed to the nines as a female on departure. Kit's all sad because her home's not fit for a duke and tells him so, but hey, he thinks that means maybe only 25 maids instead 50.
He's taken a bit aback when they arrive and it turns out it's just Ma (yup, that sounded terribly upper class Brit to me, too; all Earl's daughters go by Ma, it's the thing) and Tom, who as expected did not do as he should have by the pigs. Oh and Liza, the maid. Next the duke maneuvers Kit into sharing her tiny room and bed with him because he's afraid of the dark, no really! He gets panic attacks, but in a way he's also out to do bad things to Lydia's husband through her family for no apparent reason, or maybe he's not and he just thinks the ugly coarse-pelted woman will somehow magically exorcise all that's wrong with his life by not having sex with him and by absolutely NO WAY ever touching him in a bed meant for one person.
Oh wait, let's talk about bro Tom, who is 26 and a writer and the duke has read his books, but we all know writers don't make shit, so it's totally all right that Kit is out there chopping wood and pulling carrots and doing right by the pigs, while Tom is lounging around with ink-stained fingers doing jackshit to feed the family. But it's all cool because he couldn't have taken the power away from his older sister... what a prince of a male. Also, wait for it, he's gay, which totally explains everything, dontcha know?
Let's talk a bit about daddy dearest, who's the villain of the piece. He's dead, but he was a gambler and he was totally mean, which we are told in bits and vague allusions here and there, and told and told and then told some more. Daddy dearest loved Kit so very much he brought her up in his image, but then totally out the blue he decided that she was an awful hag and he started hating her and loving on Lydia instead (after breaking Kit's nose and hand and not letting her heal so she's all ugly and crooked now).
And then there's the awful squire who was daddy dearest BFForever and ever and ever and he has some mysterious hold on Kit who has to go to tea every so often which makes her very, very sad.
And Ma, oh, poor Ma, she's doing embroidery to impress the CDD, but it's not hers and she's only pretending and she sits around and stares into the fire a lot.
So, let's count the males, shall we?
1 cross-dressing duke who is mean as shit because he's not his daddy's son and due to that his daddy forbid EVERYBODY to ever ever EVER touch him, the little bastard. He's also kinda working for the Prime Minister. Remember that woman he shagged without being there? Yup, that was to make Liverpool happy so the woman's husband could get a divorce and he'd vote for Corn Law reform. CDD has panic attacks and can't breathe and we are supposed to feel very, very sorry for him while he manipulates and lies to everybody. Also, his first name is Jude, such a common aristo duke offspring name, you will agree.
1 useless, ink-stained brother, whom we are supposed to like because he's a misunderstood writer
1 big lummox of a husband, who desperately loves his wife, but for which we are supposed to detest him, because really, how dare he remind his wife of her daddy who did not sexually abuse her?
1 villainous daddy dearest who lost the family fortune, did not sexually abuse anybody (except his wife maybe?), but who did smash in Kit's face
1 villainous daddy dearest's BFForever and ever and ever who is really acting in Kit's best interest or so he thinks
4 or 5 gay young dandies who hang on the CDD's every word and don't abandon him even when he's a total shit to them
Are we detecting a pattern here? Is it just me?
In any case, we have a heroine, who so intrigued CDD by telling him that he was nothing but his clothes when she didn't realize he was CDD, he just knows she'll magically cure his panic attacks. She's ugly, did I mention that? And her face is all bashed in, but she's single-handedly held the family together for the last 10 years, well except for Lydia who's hated her for the last 14 years because she didn't make daddy dearest stop doing what he wasn't doing. She's fixed the pigsty and made the cruel and heartless decisions to butcher the pigs (you'll be relieved to hear that a butcher was actually doing that, but she passed the death sentence, the ruthless bitch) and she's chopped up the last wardrobe that winter 2 years ago when they ran out of firewood (obviously paper for bro's writing was more important than keeping Ma warm). And she's endured whatever dark alluded-to evil deeds villainous squire has perpetrated over the years and just totally sacrificed her ugly self, martyred to the last drop of blood all for her splendid family.
Shall we talk plot holes, loose threads and dangling participles next? No? You have given up? Awww, don't, we haven't gotten to the good parts yet. For a long while (till about p 270 of 320) I was convinced the cats must have mixed some opiate into my Michelina dinner, because, damn, I had NO clue who all these people were (Sophie? WTH is Sophie? oh, it's Ma) and what all the allusions and illusions were supposed to tell me. And I gotta tell ya, that's a lotta words for not saying anything at all that made any sense. All the things I shared with you above you didn't know until after about p. 270 which made it really hard to understand why all the people were acting like total loons.
Anyway, at the end our intrepid heroine saves the day and CDD yet again by defeating evil bitch woman of the 'I'm not here' sex who has a hate boner for CDD (one can only wonder why) and they live happily ever after. Except, now that intrepid martyr heroine is super rich from winning all evil bitch's money she's morphed into an industrial magnate, keeps forgetting that her family is expected for picnics, hardly remembers to eat and NEVER remembers she's married. She muses over breakfast (really over reading the financial news) how 'it made her ache, as it always did when she realised how separate they were.' It's so hard to know a CDD when one never spends any time with him because one is an industrial power house.
I figure, by now (a year later) he's gone back to having not-there-sex with lotsa men and women (I did mention we were told a few times he's bisexual, right?) to distract himself from the fact that his richer than Golden Ball wife has no time for him because she's busy doubling her fortune.
So, if you want to read a book about a martyr heroine who is the only competent human being in the world, albeit totally emotionally stinted and love books full of men in distress, this is the book for you.
I'm sure this is supposed to be a deep exploration and bouleversement of the popular damsel in distress trope, and I'm just to dumb to get it, but I'd have appreciated at least one male who wasn't a totally useless shitsack. On the bright side, the WTF kept me reading all 326 pages, although I now would like some of that imaginary dope the cats did not mix into my dinner... Also, bloody is a fabulous British swear word which unfortunately did not make an appearance in this book.
ARC received via Netgalley.