Yes, romances are fairly predictable. Yes, they follow strict conventions. Yes, they almost inevitably have a happy ending (we romance readers demand it, you know). But that is no excuse to use the most tired plot twists in what would otherwise perhaps be a decent story. In other words, I am sick to death of the bad guy kidnapping the heroine. I mean, if this sort of thing went on in the Regency as often as romance writers use it to add conflict into their novels, well, it's a miracle any young miss stayed out of the nefarious clutches of the baddies for more than an hour at a time. Please, authors, I am begging you, no more kidnappings! Constant abductions are making a mockery of the genre. Okay, with that off my chest, on to the actual book (which sadly, does indeed use the kidnapping ploy).
Sarah Hamilton has come to England upon the death of her father, intending to go to her uncle, the Earl of Westbrooke, whom she has never met. She ends up at an inn near the Westbrooke family home, without any belongings and being refused a room at the inn when she is taken under the wing of a drunken nobleman who shows her to "her" room. Exhausted from her journey, she climbs into bed, only waking in the morning to find herself in bed with the Duke of Alvord and being gawped at by quite a few people. Upon finding out who she is (and discovering that the drunken nobleman who ensconsed her in the Duke's room is her cousin, the current Earl of Westbrooke), James, the Duke offers to marry her. But Sarah is an American through and through and has republican ideas and a distinct distrust of titles and the aristocracy. She does, however, agree to be the James' houseguest and accompany his sister through her season. Meanwhile James has determined to marry her and sets himself up to court her, until his evil and nasty cousin threatens Sarah, much as he'd been threatening and actually attempting to murder James for years. So between Sarah's reluctance to marry into the hypocrisy and entitlement of the ton and James' desire to save her from his terrible cousin Richard, questions arise about whether or not the two of them will overcome the obstacles and end up together.
While parts of the storyline are fine, there are enough cliched and heavy-handed bits to detract from the overall. Cousin Richard is so angry and bitter about not being the Duke that he is completely stereotypical and not one ounce of goodness can be found in him. He enjoys sex with women only through rape and murder (and the scene that gives the reader this insight into his soul is very graphic) and has a longtime male lover through whom we are supposed, I think, to understand that he was once a decent human being whose anger has warped his soul to madness. And yet this isn't believable given his actions. Our hero, James, is nice but certainly not one to inspire heartfelt sighs. He is a virgin, certainly unlikely for a romance hero, but even this is a bit off given that he has never, until meeting Sarah, been interested in sex. He's thirty for pete's sake. And he's been completely *asexual* all that time, just waiting for the right woman to awaken his desires? Just a little far-fetched. Sarah is ridiculously wed to her notion that the aristocracy is all terrible contrary to what she witnesses and without reference to the fact that she is indeed one of the aristocracy herself as a result of being the Earl of Westbrooke's cousin. But despite her supposedly being an intelligent character, this never occurs to her at all.
Yes, there are significant problems in this romance but MacKenzie does take a darker tone than is usual in the genre and perhaps her desire to combine the darker with the lighter, more usual fare, helped to create some of these problems. As this is a debut novel, I'd be curious to see if these dichotomies and flaws are melded more seamlessly and smoothed over better in the later books in the series. I do already own the rest of the series and so will eventually read it otherwise I'd probably say that this is one I'd be more inclined to borrow from the library than anything else.