Release Date: July 31, 2018
Series: Reluctant Royals #2
“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?”
Because I read so much for my other writing gig over at Tor.com, it’s not often that I have time to read for fun, especially books that aren’t young adult fiction and/or speculative fiction. And it’s even rarer that I have time to try authors and genres I’m not already familiar with. When you have a queue as massive as mine, it’s almost easier to read a book written by a favorite author or in a genre I know I already enjoy than to try something and find out halfway through that I don’t like it, therefore wasting what little freetime I have.
But! Starting last year I have tried to make a concerted effort to stretch beyond my comfort zone. Recently, when the Romance Writers of America publicly imploded, I decided it was time to try romance fiction. I also knew I wanted an eaudiobook. By luck I found Alyssa Cole’s Reluctant Royals series. Although A Duke by Default is technically the second book, the appeal of Edinburgh (one of my favorite cities in the world) was too much to pass up.
Anyway, this is a roundabout way of saying how much I loved A Duke by Default! The story is effervescent and charming. Portia and Tavish defy expectations, particularly if you, like me, came into the story with certain unflattering romance novel tropes rattling around in your head. I especially loved that the story centers on two POC – a Black woman and a man who is Latinx and white – and uses that as a way to break down stereotypes and confront racism – and, in Portia’s case, misogynoir. Portia, has one more difference that makes her stand out from most romance heroines: she has ADHD. Cole handles this deftly and uses her learning difference as a way to explore disability, ableism, and mental health.
Of course I should also mention the romance part of the romance novel. The sex scenes were steamy without being super explicit (which for this ace/aro reader is a major bonus – I don’t need it to be “clean,” but I also don’t want a flood of anatomical details). The romance was realistically rendered and swoon-worthy. Mostly I just loved spending time with Tavish and Portia as they fell for each other and learned real truths about themselves. And now if you’ll excuse me I have to go back and read the first book in the series!