Having heard good things about The Duke and the Lady in Red I decided to lift my temporary Lorraine Heath ban and check this new book out. Sadly, it wasn’t a return to our happier times. With The Duke and the Lady in Red my temporary Heath ban looks more like an author breakup. I hated so much about this title, but the thing I hated the most was how sexuality substituted for character development. To be fair, both characters end the book in a very different place than they began yet their maturity is driven almost exclusively by a disabled prop. Let’s start with our Duke. He’s a real charmer.
Not that he required a male companion when he had female ones aplenty. But sometimes it was nice to have someone with whom he could carry on a halfway intelligent conversation. Someone with an intellect. Someone who appreciated his ribald jokes. The women usually in his company tended to mewl, sigh, and whisper naughty things in his ear. Not that he didn’t enjoy them. He did. But they were so alike. They seldom varied. Oh, their hair, their eyes, their shapes were different, but at their core they were all the same.
Heath, Lorraine (2015-04-28). The Duke and the Lady in Red (Scandalous Gentlemen of St. James) (p. 9). HarperCollins. Kindle Edition.
Ok, so screw this guy is our baseline, right? He doesn’t need a name, really. Our heroine flat out says every duke is handsome in their own way, so we’ll stick with Duke. One night, prowling his club, Duke spies a woman in a red dress and decides she is the one unlike all others. He must add her to his collection. She’s our heroine, Rose. Rose has been seducing money out of men for decades, but don’t worry. Hermetically Sealed Heroine coming through with a side of slut shaming!
She’d done a good many things in her life, a good many that brought her no pride, but she had managed to do what she needed without spreading her legs to obtain what she wanted.
Heath, Lorraine (2015-04-28). The Duke and the Lady in Red (Scandalous Gentlemen of St. James) (p. 66). HarperCollins. Kindle Edition.
Man, what a relief. For a minute I’d thought she was an honest whore instead of a thief. Rose has been caring for her household, a collection of former sideshow exhibits. Heath has it all ways here, moving the giant and two little people through a variety of roles. Co-conspirator, employees, family, friends, soon to be fired burdens, their relationship to Rose changes as Heath desires. The biggest issue is Rose’s brother Harry. (He’s so closely based on The Elephant Man that a character is named Merrick.) Rose treats her brother like a child that must be hidden, all while claiming her actions have been solely dictated by his care and his needs. This is classic Disability Prop. Before we get into Harry, let’s just give Rose one last shout out. Read on as Rose exposes her super awesome intuition about Duke and his mommy issues.
“It’s as though he can’t be bothered with anything other than his own needs, but I think that’s just a façade. I think he’s been hurt. He’s awfully cautious.”
Heath, Lorraine (2015-04-28). The Duke and the Lady in Red (Scandalous Gentlemen of St. James) (p. 152). HarperCollins. Kindle Edition.
Good luck with that, babe. In the real world you’d be making excuses for an abusive mess but this is Disability Prop Romance so we are setting up the awwww moments. Harry is a grown ass man with limited sexual understanding, despite living in a household with a married couple and another man. He is restricted from going out alone, for fear of being attacked by random strangers. His clothes are made shoddily by one of the little people, who is also their cook and cleaner. He never challenges his sister on his isolation, he has no goals for his own life.
Harry exists only as a mirror for Rose. His life’s work is an ode to Rose’s kidnapping of him (fair enough), her care of him (ehhh), and her saintly devotion (hold up!) to his comfort. He has no ambition beyond pleasing her, no interests beyond complying with her. They are not a team. Rather than discuss things as adults, Rose dictates and Harry complies. Without Harry, Rose is a terrible person.
The Duke and the Lady in Red would have been far more interesting if Harry had called Rose out. A few simple scenes where Harry tells Rose not to put her baggage on him might have elevated him beyond a fetish. Instead, it is the duke who sees Harry as a whole person. In a way, it’s more of the same. No longer needed to show what a good person Rose is, Harry now shows what a good person Duke is.
Avendale took one, then watched as Harry did the same with a hand that was beautiful and elegant, and he wondered if it might have been kinder if there was nothing about him that was shaped to perfection.
Heath, Lorraine (2015-04-28). The Duke and the Lady in Red (Scandalous Gentlemen of St. James) (p. 202). HarperCollins. Kindle Edition.
I can’t even with that. How would having a body that in no way complied with societal beauty standards be kinder than the body Harry has? How would more disfigurement aid his life? It’s a pure pity in the face of revulsion moment. Duke takes Harry out for a night on the town he’s arranged, a night as artificial as the gilded cage Rose keeps her brother in. Duke hires a woman to have sex with Harry. She refuses payment of course because the Disability Prop must always be a saintly figure that all who meet become enthralled by. Harry is so excited by feeling normal for a night that he promptly dies. Rose immediately junks the rest of her little family.
“I suspect Merrick and the others will need to seek employment,” he said casually. She tilted up the corners of her lips, and in her smile he saw understanding and assurance. “Yes. I need to speak with them, explain that I won’t be providing for them anymore. It’s time for them to make their own way again, although I suspect they know it. It was Harry that kept us together. While they saw to his care, I was more than happy to see after their needs. But he doesn’t need their care anymore.”
Heath, Lorraine (2015-04-28). The Duke and the Lady in Red (Scandalous Gentlemen of St. James) (p. 331). HarperCollins. Kindle Edition.
Who can blame her? Rose has landed in clover. Why would she have a thought or concern for the people who have traveled across the country helping her cheat dozens out of money? She paid them, right? Without her disabled brother she’s free to finally lead the life she’s always wanted, a life where she doesn’t share her ill-gotten gains. Never mind they’ve protected her, warned her, never betrayed her and won’t have useful references, Harry’s dead! Rose puts them completely out of her mind until the last pages of the book when they suddenly become her family again. Hand wave that and let’s hit the babylouge.
Rose worried that her brother’s affliction might visit our children, but it didn’t. To this day, they remain perfect in appearance. More importantly, they are perfect in heart.
Heath, Lorraine (2015-04-28). The Duke and the Lady in Red (Scandalous Gentlemen of St. James) . HarperCollins. Kindle Edition.
Can you imagine? There might have been an ugly Duke!! The Duke and the Lady in Red is a perfect example of good intentions meeting the brick wall of disability assumptions. This book made me wonder if I really wanted to break-up with historical romance instead of Lorraine Heath. Luckily the next two I tried reminded me it’s not always sliding tongues and climbing crosses.