|As a fan of Sophia Nash, it truly pains me to rate her latest Royal Entourage novel, The Art of Duke Hunting two hearts. What starts out promising with a missing cursed duke and the widow of an unapologetic drunk devolves nearly immediately and drags its characters down with it.
Sixteen dukes ago, Norwich was cursed by a Mannon witch. In the ensuing years, the dukes have died untimely primarily accidental deaths – always associated in same way with ducks. Roman Montagu, known as Seventeen to his friends, inherited the title from his beloved brother, who died in a sailing accident. Ever since, Roman has been terrified by the mere thought of sailing. Naturally then, he's out of his mind when he wakes up from a night of stag party debauchery lashed to a ship floundering in a horrible storm.
Esme March, the widowed Countess of Derby, happens to be aboard said ship on her way to a tour of the Continent. She helps the drowned rat of a man survive and seduces him into letting go of his fears. That's the, ahem, climax of the story, and it happens in the first few chapters. From there, the duke proposes as he ought, is refused as expected, and then is forced to marry March anyway due to royal command.
Both characters, who truthfully know next to nothing about one another, then spend the remainder of the novel tiptoeing around one another and whining about how they do not want to infringe upon the other's liberty. One of Sophia Nash's finer qualities is her ability to include humor in a genre that is generally not comical, and that proves true with The Art of Duke Hunting, and thankfully so, since that seems to be the only redeeming feature of an otherwise pretty boring story.