Review – A Duke by Default by Alyssa Cole

Posted February 15, 2019 by smutmatters in Contemporary, Reviews / 0 Comments

Review – A Duke by Default by Alyssa ColeA Duke by Default by Alyssa Cole
Series: Reluctant Royals #2
Series Rating: four-stars
Published by Avon on July 31, 2018
Genres: Contemporary, Romance
Pages: 374
Format: Paperback
Source: Purchased
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three-half-stars
two-half-flames

Award-winning author Alyssa Cole’s Reluctant Royals series continues with a woman on a quest to be the heroine of her own story and the duke in shining armor she rescues along the way

New York City socialite and perpetual hot mess Portia Hobbs is tired of disappointing her family, friends, and—most importantly—herself. An apprenticeship with a struggling swordmaker in Scotland is a chance to use her expertise and discover what she’s capable of. Turns out she excels at aggravating her gruff silver fox boss…when she’s not having inappropriate fantasies about his sexy Scottish burr.

Tavish McKenzie doesn’t need a rich, spoiled American telling him how to run his armory…even if she is infuriatingly good at it. Tav tries to rebuff his apprentice, and his attraction to her, but when Portia accidentally discovers that he’s the secret son of a duke, rough-around-the-edges Tav becomes her newest makeover project.

Forging metal into weapons and armor is one thing, but when desire burns out of control and the media spotlight gets too hot to bear, can a commoner turned duke and his posh apprentice find lasting love?

I know that I already reviewed the 3rd book in this series, so this is out of order, but they’re easily read as standalones, and this book was so good I couldn’t not review it. More accurately, Portia was so fantastic, I couldn’t not review this book.

When I finished A Princess in Theory and found out that Portia would be the heroine of this book, I really didn’t know how Alyssa Cole was going to manage that. She wasn’t an awful human being, which would, weirdly, be a more believable redemption arc. She was just selfish and immature, and completely oblivious to the way her actions affected those around her. Yes, during the course of Princess, she seemed to have an awakening as to some of these issues, but that had happened before, and she hadn’t changed.

Oh, me of little faith. Portia did realize just how crappy of a friend and family member she was at the end of Princess, and between books, she developed Project: New Portia, and by the time we meet her here, it’s in full swing. She’s accepted an internship at a swordmaker in Edinburgh, she’s stopped drinking, and sworn off men.

Her new boss, Tavish McKenzie, will put pretty much all of those resolutions to the test. He’s a little older than her, grumpy, and, according to her new rules and his, completely off limits. So it’s unfortunate just how into each other they clearly are from the moment they meet. When Portia maces him.

This a slooooow burn. They really do fight their attraction to each other for as long as they possibly can, but eventually, they can’t. As we knew would happen.

As much as I loved this romance, I was here for Portia. She has a terrible relationship with her family, and after seeing a few of their interactions, it was easy to see why. Her parents don’t understand her, and what’s worse, they don’t care or even try to. Her sister is better, but their relationship is strained as well. After watching a few videos online, Portia starts to suspect she has ADHD, which is the first time she’s ever had a name for why she feels disconnected and different from everyone around her. Knowing why she feels the way she does is a revelation for her, and she does start trying to take control of that part of her life.

Tavish….. Hm. I like a good grumpy hero, but he came across as a bit of a jerk. He really was terrible to Portia, and eventually she calls him out on it, but not soon enough for me. She’s there for a swordmaking apprenticeship, and she makes one sword the entire time because he can’t put aside his feelings long enough to act like the professional he is and actually teach her how to do it.

And it turns out there’s one fiction trope I’m really tired of, that I didn’t even realize I was tired of until this book, and it’s anyone over the age of 30 acting like smartphones are some new-fangled, incomprehensible bit of technology that they just can’t be bothered with. Tavish is 38. There’s no reason at all for him to act as he does regarding technology. “I’m sure you’ve got a thesaurus on your electronic hingmie.”, he says, in reference to her iPad. Her iPad, for crying out loud. She doesn’t have access to new and never-before-seen tech. It’s a freaking iPad. And he’s not even 40. It’s really frustrating, especially in someone who’s trying to run a business that’s largely dependent on word of mouth to get sales.

The side characters in this book are fantastic. Tavish’s sister-in-law, Cheryl, runs a cafe that’s made to look like a TARDIS and has Doctor Who themed foods and drinks. It’s called Doctor Hu’s, and I really want to go there.

As much as I loved the characters, the story was a little less well-done than I’m used to from Alyssa Cole. I am the first to admit that I do not know the ins and outs of the British peerage system. But I have watched enough Downton Abbey to be pretty sure that you can’t inherit a title if you’re illegitimate. I may hate that phrase, but it’s accurate. Tavish’s biological father may have been a duke, but his parents weren’t married, so he wasn’t an official heir, so he wouldn’t be able to inherit that title. And I was confused by Cole’s decision to make Tavish’s title the Duke of Edinburgh. There is an actual Duke of Edinburgh, and it’s Prince Phillip. Most authors just make up dukedoms, and it would have been less confusing if Alyssa Cole had done that.

Also, the “villain” of the book is the man currently holding the Duke title. There’s something he does later in the book that is so heinous it’s actively illegal, and there aren’t really any consequences, or even any discussion of it beyond “Wow, what a dick.” There’s a small mention of “Maybe we should tell Scotland Yard”, which isn’t nothing, but I really wanted to see him get his.

Overall, Portia may be my favorite heroine of this series, but this wasn’t my favorite story. However, I’ll never tell anyone not to pick up an Alyssa Cole book. You should definitely pick this one up.

About Alyssa Cole

Alyssa Cole is an award-winning author of historical, contemporary, and SFF romance. Her Civil War-set espionage romance AN EXTRAORDINARY UNION is the winner of the American Library Association’s RUSA Best Romance for 2018. She’s contributed to publications including Shondaland, The Toast, Vulture, RT Book Reviews, and Heroes and Heartbreakers, and her books have received critical acclaim from The New York Times, Library Journal, Kirkus, Booklist, Jezebel, Vulture, Book Riot, Entertainment Weekly, and various other outlets. When she’s not working, she can often be found watching anime with her husband or wrangling their menagerie of animals. She is represented by Courtney Miller-Callihan of Handspun Literary.