Yesterday I was thinking that what one will allow in a character changes with age. When I was younger if I had encountered a book like The Duke’s Captive I might have loved it. Certainly I forgave contemporary heros who hung around truck stops looking for delicate amnesiacs to take home and clothe. I managed to tolerate submissive secretaries and love scenes that lacked consent. (Let’s not even talk about the Plantation Novel.) Even a deadbeat dad was fine if he showed the appropriate remorse.
Alas, I am so much older now. I wanted to like The Duke’s Captive so very much. Adele Ashworth is a wonderful writer. Certainly, she loves her Dukes (Duke of Scandal, Duke of Sin, The Duke’s Indiscretion…) but who in Romanceland doesn’t? Sadly there are two problems here. The first is that the book relies far too much on knowledge of Ashworth’s 2008 release A Notorious Proposition. The second is our heroine, Viola. (I’ve changed my mind, three problems.) The third is the central theme of the book – what is rape? What is consent? If you believe that consent is the word yes, no matter the context in which it is issued, stop here. If you have any familiarity at all with Stockholm Syndrome read on!
Ian once spent 5 weeks locked in a dungeon where he almost died of neglect. The reader who hasn’t read A Notorious Proposition will have absolutely no idea why, even after a late in the book rumination on how he came to be captured. (It’s his own fault, of course. He was practically asking for it. No, I did mean to put it that way. That’s the rape defense – he was ASKING for it.) Having survived his ordeal, Ian is plagued by memory troubles and a desire for revenge. I mean justice. No, I mean revenge. (Oh, who knows. Since he ends up with Viola the man is obviously unfit to make his own choices in life.) Fast forward and skip over all the plot points. Ok, so Viola’s sisters kidnapped Ian, he’s really mad, he’s going to make Viola pay as one of his captors through this TOTALLY elaborate plot because he wants to have sex with his rapist and – what? No, you have that right. Ian believes (and I concur) that Viola raped him. But he wants to have sex with her anyway. I know! But he does. Right, so Viola is a widow and she’s been living with her four year old son (Wait, how long ago was Ian freed? Secret baby in Victorianland, y’all!) and making a living as an artist of dirty pictures when Ian shows up and she practically faints.
We’re getting bogged down with too much plot. Fast forward again. Ian kidnaps her and holds her hostage in a tiny cabin where she isn’t at all concerned about her son but instead is pissed that Ian doesn’t understand that he’d be dead if it wasn’t for her and he wanted sex so much that the only Christian thing to do was give it him because it was true love. (Really, am I the only one thinking of a certain crazy teacher and her too young lover right now?) But then she realizes if he doesn’t get to have sex with her again he will never be whole so she says “whatever, bang me“, and he does. Because they are so hot for each other. It must be love if they want to have sex! It isn’t Stockholm Syndrome at all! Even though the whole time she’s been thinking “Dude, I will totally ruin you with your secrets” and she exposes him to intense public humiliation in the end he realizes that it was not her fault that her family abducted, drugged, starved, beat, and attempted to kill him. She was a victim too. She did her best. She keeps his secrets. (What?) Oh, I forgot, he was also chained to a wall the whole time.
And you know, I think I had Stockholm Syndrome too because I was sort of starting to see his point. Yes, large parts of their interpersonal dynamic made me hunger for a shower and some quality therapy, but overall she did assist in freeing him. She did offer him what care she could because – wait. Viola wasn’t in fear of her life? She was just in fear of being homeless? She kept an earl (he gets a social upgrade between books) captive because her mom might get mad? Ok, maybe she just doesn’t want to articulate that… what? She is bitching that her sister doesn’t want to talk to her anymore? The one jailed and transported for trying to kill Ian? Viola is saving money in a special account to give her sister if she ever forgives Viola for freeing Ian?
Wow. Viola’s martyr act just got a whole lot less tolerable. Ian’s sister makes a cameo to give Ian proof of Viola’s love instead of the hair pulling, bitch slapping, drop kicking the reader is longing for and all is well for these two little lovebirds. Of course, she’s a rapist with some scary situational ethics and he’s suffering from post traumatic stress syndrome, but why quibble? She raped him, he raped her, it doesn’t really matter if you liked it. Plus, she had a child. Everyone knows that having the child of the man you sexed up while he was dying, chained, and drugged silly means you care. Ok. I’m getting a little misty just remembering. I’d better leave it at that.