While Alyssa Cole isn’t on my auto-buy list of authors*, I’m always going to check out her new releases. She writes stories with smart, engaging characters that I like spending time with. I enjoyed A Princess in Theory so much that I pre-ordered A Duke by Default as soon as it was available.
I swallowed this book whole, you guys.
Flighty rich girl Portia, Ledi’s friend from Theory, runs away from New York to take up a swordmaking apprenticeship in Scotland. Her master is grumpy bastard Tavish McKenzie, a man barely keeping his head above water trying to keep his armory-cum-community-center open. The last thing he needs is the distractingly pretty Portia wreaking havoc in his forge or his personal life. Portia, for her part, is trying to turn over a new leaf and get her life together; she’s exhausted her parents’s patience as she approaches 30 with no sign of settling down personally or professionally.
If grumpy hero who softens slightly for the heroine is your romance trope, you want this book. Tav is a jerrrrrk. Not like Richard in Act Like It, but no less an ass. His family knows and accepts it, but Portia pushes him to reconsider the consequences of his rough edges.
Portia is struggling with a lot of self-esteem issues, and Cole resists the temptation to wrap them up neatly at the conclusion. Portia’s conflict with her parents is left open-ended. Her self-diagnosis stands without challenge or confirmation. She’s a complex character; Cole balances Portia’s vulnerability and strength well. I think Portia might be my favorite of her leading ladies yet.
If there’s a weakness, it’s that the duke plot feels a bit shoe-horned into the story. Tavish assuming his father’s title doesn’t go anywhere in the story itself. We are told that it will solve some of Tav’s woes, but the solution happens beyond the horizon, after the story ends. That’s a little disappointing, but I get it: that’s the after in “happily ever after”. But, really, if it wasn’t required by the theme, there’s enough story without the duke thread.
I just finished this book, stopped to write this review, and now I’m going to go back and start again.
*It’s a short list because I’m miserly.