I finished this on a bit of a book high, but in the three weeks since I finished it, it’s soured a bit in my memory. I think I will probably finish out both of the series she’s got currently running, and then reevaluate from there if I’ll read more of her books.
Now that I’ve had some distance from A Duke By Default, it’s clear that yet again, Cole has written a book where I unabashedly love the lady and think the dude is a mess (a mess in terms of story, not in terms of personality). The only one of her books I’ve read that doesn’t fit this pattern is A Hope Divided, which I genuinely loved, no real complaints.
I definitely had some complaints here, so let’s start with those and then end on a positive note.
The stuff that bugged me:
- Portia is hired ostensibly as an apprentice swordsmaker to this dude in Scotland. She arrives, maces the owner/her boss (misunderstanding, funny story), and then spends her entire internship learning absolutely nothing about swordmaking. She is not an apprentice, she never learns anything. She makes ONE sword the entire time, and it’s heavily supervised. Even after making that one sword, she doesn’t learn anything and probably couldn’t duplicate the experience. This absolutely drove me up the wall. WHY. I suppose I could have gone along with it if there had been some sort of acknowledgement once she got there that she was better off, and they were better off, with her acting in a different capacity. But they never did, and everyone ignores it. [insert gif of me pulling my hair out in frustration]
- Tav is a huge jerk who treats his professional relationship with Portia as nonexistent. She does nothing but be helpful, present, hard-working and inventive, and give him suggestions/fixes that help him improve his business, and all he can think is that she is so attractive that he literally cannot function as a normal human being when he is around her, and his only possibly response is to rebuff and annoy her. UGH. I don’t understand why Cole had to write him like this. He could have respected his professional relationship with her and still found a way to be conflicted about the changes she was making and what she represented for him.
- The way she writes chemistry between her leads early on bugs me. There is too much focus on the physical side of it for me, where the physical attraction is like, short-circuiting their brains or something. Once they get to know each other and open up, I enjoyed their banter, but it felt a little weird to me at first.
- There’s a scene where Tav has a DNA test and the results are literally back in five minutes. What. Okay, a cursory googling has told me it usually takes days if you have a lab or whatever, but I suppose if they had their own machine, it could be narrowed down to a couple of hours. But MINUTES??
So yes, lots of stuff bugged me. BUT. I loved Portia so much! I loved her whole thing. I loved her little crisis, and her willingness to try new things. I loved Project Portia. I loved her finding out about her ADHD diagnosis, and her re-contextualized relationships with her parents and sister. I loved how badass she was at whipping Tav’s business into shape, and I loved that the tables were so turned. She was the one who rescued him, taught him how to be a royal. Usually it’s the lady getting the makeover. I loved the side characters, and the Doctor Hu’s Chinese restaurant shaped like a TARDIS. I loved the female friendships.
So, I liked those things so much, even though I hated those other things so much, and hence CONFLICT.
I will of course be reading the next book in the series.