Perils of the Heart

The Pirate Hunter

The Pirate Next Door

Lady Knightly's Secret

The Mad, Bad Duke
by Jennifer Ashley
(Leisure, $6.99, R) ISBN-100-8439-5607-0
When Megan Tavistock agrees to accompany her friend to a witch, little does she suspect that magic is about to strike against her. Deirdre may have paid £50 for a love spell to capture the attention of Alexander, the mad, bad duke of the title, but the witch ensures it only works on Megan. Two nights later, she meets him at a ball, and they are both immediately swept up by their passion.

Alexander, Grand Duke of Nvengaria and its current ambassador to England, doesnít understand what is happening. He has always taken pride in being in complete control. He had to in order to carry out revenge against the man who killed his father. His ruthless self- discipline has also ensured he protects his country from internal and external threats, such as the scheming of imperial Austria. In his mind, the magic can only be the work of his worst enemies. Still, Alexander is an honorable man. He may have his doubts about the love spell, but he proposes to Megan and makes the naÔve country girl the envy of all the ton.

Marriage only brings new problems for Alexander and Megan. For one, their obsessive passion is as strong as ever. Worse, Alexanderís sense of self-control now encounters even harsher attacks. He has to head off another conspiracy against Nvengaria while facing up to another side of him that he didnít even know existed. Alexander, it appears, is half-logosh, or a Nvengarian demonic shape shifter. Under the guise of not wanting to hurt Megan when his inner beast takes over, he keeps pushing her away. She, however, is not willing to let go.

Therein lies the main problem with the novel. Megan is too sweet, too kind, too gentle. Everybody loves her: Alexanderís former mistress; his Nvengarian bodyguards; even the stuffy English butler. Nothing ever stands in her way, and if it does, she just walks merrily past it. Though Iím not a big fan of tormented, angst-ridden heroines, Meganís complex-free Pollyanna personality is a bit too much to handle. It certainly didnít add any spice to what quickly began to look like a one-way relationship. Every time Alexander pushes her away, she happily bounces back and starts all over.

Alexanderís determination to maintain control was just as annoying. It mostly felt like a flagrant ploy to create conflict in a story which was quickly loosing momentum. I canít say it worked. It didnít do much convince to me that he was truly in love, either. How could it? The blissfully happy couple never talk about much more than their mutual passion.

Jennifer Ashley doesnít do a bad job establishing a Regency historical setting: the diplomatic intrigue, for one, seem somewhat credible. Her paranormal world also has some potential, even if she blatantly borrows from a number of different sources. Nvengaria is an unusual blend of Hogsworth-like magic, old Hollywood films about the non-existent Ruritania and familiar folklore. From what I can make out, most of this information was already established in Penelope and Prince Charming, which features Meganís stepsister and Alexanderís cousin Damien, so itís not as if weíre treading true ground. Besides, however intriguing the setting, it doesnít make up for a rather skimpy plot and poor characterization. Unless youíre someone who prefers the background to the story, Iíd give this one a miss.

--Mary Benn

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