Never Deceive a Duke, by Liz Carlyle

Liz Carlyle’s 2008 release Never Deceive a Duke, leaves me with the same conundrum as Wicked All Day did: I can’t figure out what the title has to do with anything. Yes, there is a duke, but who’s doing the deceiving? Not that I’m necessarily in favor of titles that tell you exactly what’s going on. If it were a standard Harlequin category romance, it would probably be called The Jewish Duke’s Widowed Secret Lover or something.

Yes, you read that right: Gabriel Gareth Lloyd, the hero of a historical romance, is Jewish. For that alone, I picked up the book, because there is a dearth of historical romance featuring anybody but your standard Christian rakes (and the half-Indian, half-Gypsy “exotic” rakes, of course). The story didn’t disappoint at all…even if the set-up reminded me a little of Carlyle’s A Woman Scorned.

Gareth Lloyd has worked with Neville Shipping for years, shutting his dark past away, but then his cousin, the Duke of Warneham, dies under suspicious circumstances. With four wives under the duke’s belt and no children, the only person left to inherit the title and the estates is Gareth. When he begrudgingly takes on the responsibility, he meets the duchess Antonia, a fragile 26-year-old, whom everyone suspects may have killed her much older husband.

Never Deceive a Duke is about reckoning with grief, about reconciling one’s past, and having the courage to move on. And Gareth’s Jewish heritage — his father was disowned for marrying Ruth and after their deaths, Gareth was raised by her parents — is a key part of that theme. I loved when he explained the concept of shiva to Antonia, assuring her that there is no shame in giving mourning its due. Despite being brought up by the Gottfrieds, at least until terrible tragedies struck and changed his life forever, Gareth is more or less raised Christian. Or at least secular. Which makes sense, given the era. His mother wanted him to be able to conform to his father’s world. But as Gareth tells Antonia, in his heart he’s absolutely Jewish. And the reader gets glimpses of that in the form of flashbacks to a wee Gabriel with his “Bubbe” and “Zayde.”

It’s a great concept, and a wonderful way to diversify the romantic historical canvas. Speaking of diversification, there is also the inclusion of Carlyle’s recurring character, George Kemble. International man of mystery, interior decorator, valet…is there anything he can’t do? A particular scene between Gareth, Kemble and Rothewell (the hero of Never Romance a Rake) had me laughing out loud on the subway. Kemble’s sexuality is not explicitly stated in this book, but he’s definitely gay (which I confirmed upon reading an earlier Carlyle work, The Devil To Pay). And I appreciated that Carlyle draws no link between that and some of the horrors* Gareth experienced as a youth. Too many romance authors use homosexuality as a villainous device that goes hand-in-hand with child abuse. It’s despicable and irresponsible.

Carlyle’s Never Deceive a Duke is anything but that. And with both Gareth and Kemble, she reboots the idea of what a romance novel hero “should be.” Here’s hoping more authors follow her lead. 

*Just a warning that, yes, this book does discuss issues of rape in pretty stark terms, so steer clear if you’re triggered by such things.

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