Book Review: Sabrina Jeffries’ What the Duke Desires

Posted August 20, 2013 by Kathy Davie in

I received this book for free from in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.

Book Review: Sabrina Jeffries’ What the Duke Desires

What the Duke Desires

on June 18, 2013 and has 416 pages.

Explore it on Goodreads or Amazon.

First in the Duke’s Men historical romance series revolving around a detective agency. The couple focus is on Lisette Bonnaud and Max Cale.

I am conflicted as to how to score this: a “1” for the excessive melodrama, a “2” for the bashing of the culture and mores of the time period, a “2” for the way-too-obvious plotline, but a “4” for a clever twist. Too bad she didn’t keep twisting.

My Take

If you adore eye-rolling melodrama, this is the story for you…

I do have to give Jeffries props for coming up with a unique twist on the historical romance. It has terrific potential, but I’m afraid I’m letting my personal prejudices get in the way on this.

I love the idea of Dom’s investigative agency and Lisette’s independence with Dom’s grateful appreciation. And I love that he admits to wanting to use her skills.

But the setup for the initial conflict was so lame. There were so many rules and entails and such in those days, that I find it hard to believe that even Dominick was so easily cut out. The mistress? Sure, she would have no legal standing, but she seems to have been an intelligent woman, if much too accepting of the viscount’s excuses. Even Lisette saw through them. Me? I got a headache from my eyeballs rolling…oh, man, I think it’s coming back too…

It does limit my empathy for the Bonnaud family’s situation when it’s so idiotically contrived. Then the situation into which Tristan propels himself almost immediately…oh, brother. What? Was Jeffries in that much of a hurry to crank this story out? Do keep the bucket nearby…

I do love Dom’s choice. It’s so very noble and farsighted of him. And fits right in with all the melodrama. And I like that Lisette stands up for herself. And for Dom. But no respectable woman would be entertaining an unrelated, just-met man at dawn while she’s wearing her night things. Even if she is a bastard. Hey, she’s the one who claims to be so concerned for Dom’s reputation. That should include her behavior since she works for him.

Cale’s reaction to Tristan’s note is over the top, which is in keeping with the story’s melodramatic nature. He must be quite athletic as he certainly leaps to some idiotic conclusions awfully fast.

Lisette’s reasons for accompanying the duke to France are practical, and I can see why she would want to rush over immediately. But after all her inner turmoil over Dom and his agency’s reputation, where does Jeffries get off sending Lisette off with this stranger? She can protest all she wants about how she’s a nothing and a nobody — it’s true in the eyes of their world. But it is hypocritical of her. I don’t see why Max is so hot to trot, though. It’s been years, surely he can wait a week??

Dukely?? Oh, please…

Oh, too funny…Lisette is so determined to embrace all aspects of the investigative life, but she finds it difficult to cope with abrupt change and struggles to keep her undercover story straight.

Okay, even if they’re faking being married, husbands and wives of the time did not refer to each other by first names.

Oh, thank you! An author who understands the difference between ravage and ravish…! Such a treat.

And I loved how Lisette kept throwing being single back in Max’s face. Definitely not the usual approach he knows so well.

Then just as I start getting a bit into it, Jeffries reminds me with yet another eye-rolling moment…

“And I really like these.”

I do have to confess to being unfair and judgmental; I hadn’t realized that the correlation between syphilis and madness hadn’t been made by the time of this story. Still, Max’s excuses were, again, melodramatic and felt contrived, falling into that trope of the innocent martyr.

I’m confused. If Max and Victor are the only males left of the sixth Duke of Lyons, and Victor will inherit the dukedom if Max should die, then how come he’s not Max’s heir.

Jesus, and of course, we have to have the fatal scene of misunderstandings and cruel words that tear our lovers apart. Gag.

The Story

A chance accident deprives the Bonnaud children of any hope of legitimacy. The fraud perpetrated on their father’s deathbed changes their lives even further as the family flees to France.

A lack of success on Tristan’s part has him packing Lisette back to England, to Dom’s tender care and to aid him with Manton’s Investigations. A move both Dom and Lisette appreciate, as Dom can use the help and Lisette loves the sense of freedom.

The Characters

Lisette Bonnaud is fourteen the year her life changes. Tristan is her older brother. Claudine Bonnaud is their mother and the viscount’s French mistress. Papa, Ambrose, Viscount Rathmoor, just can’t be pinned down to anything. George Manton is the viscount’s legitimate heir, their hateful half-brother. Dominick Manton is the younger legitimate brother, and he fully accepts his half-siblings. He was planning on a career in the law.

Maximilian Cale, the Duke of Lyons, is furious. Peter, Max’s older brother, the true heir to the dukedom, was kidnapped when he was young. His father and Great-uncle Nigel died raving maniacs. Victor Cale is his cousin. Elizabeta Franke was Victor’s mother. Gabriel Sharpe is a friend of Max’s.

Skrimshaw, a.k.a., Shaw, is Dom’s butler, valet, and footman with a love for the stage. Mrs. Biddle is the housekeeper.

Eugène Vidocq is the former head of the French secret police, the Sûreté. The man who hired Tristan as an agent and Lisette to organize his index cards and files. Jack Drake is Tristan’s undercover name. Well, one of them, anyway.

Hucker is the new viscount’s toadying enforcer. Mrs. Greasley is a gossipy neighbor who meets Lisette on her journey; her husband, Mr. Greasley, is under her thumb. Probably safer. Dr. Worth is the ship’s physician. Sir Jackson Pinter, in the magistrate’s office, is a friend of Dom’s. Jane Vernon is the woman who threw Dom over when George cut him out of any inheritance.

The Cover and Title

The cover is also different with Max catching handfuls of pearls and corset strings as he embraces Lisette, baring her back to us, those corset edges opening wider, the pearls dripping down her back.

The title is certainly enticing, and What the Duke Desires is a lot more than you will expect.