With She Tempts the Duke, Heath kicks off another enthralling series, this time following the fortunes of the Lost Lords of Pembrook-three dark and dangerous noble brothers imprisoned and robbed of their inheritance, but free now and determined to reclaim their birthright. Set in England during Victoria’s reign, She Tempts the Duke is the enthrallingly romantic story of Sebastian, who fled to battle, and his return to London, a hardened soldier, drawn to the beautiful, brave lady who helped him and his brothers escape their captivity.
Rating: Narration – B; Content – B-
There’s something about Lorraine Heath’s writing that strikes a real chord with me and pushes all the right emotional buttons; so much so that’s she’s now on my auto-buy list. Given that I am someone who likes listening to audio versions of books I’ve enjoyed, I’ve been keen to listen to Ms Heath’s work in audio format, but have been put off because her most recent series (The Scandalous Gentlemen of St. James) and her current one (The Hellions of Havisham Hall) are being narrated by someone I don’t feel is up to the task.
So I was pleased when She Tempts the Duke appeared, as not only is it narrated by someone else, it’s a ‘missing book’, by which I mean that other books in this series have been available for a while, but for some reason this one hasn’t. However, a different series and a different narrator proved to be a mixed blessing; the narration is much better, but the story is weaker.
The book opens with three young boys – twins Sebastian and Tristan Easton, who are fourteen, and their brother Rafe, aged ten – escaping the clutches of their evil uncle with the help of their long-time friend, Mary Wynne-Jones. The boys’ father, the Duke of Keswick, has recently died and they have been locked in the tower at their ancestral home of Pembrook Castle – but when Mary overhears their uncle, Lord David Easton, planning to murder them in order to gain the title, she warns them and helps them get away.
Twelve years later, with Mary now comfortably betrothed to a young viscount, society is sent into a tailspin with the arrival of three tall, dark and handsome young men who make a dramatic entrance at a ball at Easton House in London and announce themselves as the Duke of Keswick and his two brothers, collectively known as the Lost Lords of Pembrook (which is, incidentally, the title of the series). They chose their moment carefully, however. Lord David has been petitioning the government to have the brothers declared legally dead so that he can inherit, and the ball was to celebrate the fact that he was about to become a duke. But with his hopes dashed and Sebastian expelling him from the property, Lord David goes to ground – although it’s obviously not the last any of the brothers is going to hear from him.
Following their escape twelve years earlier and after making arrangements for his brothers, Sebastian had purchased a commission and joined the army. He was seriously wounded at the Battle of Balaclava in the Crimean War, lost an eye and bears horrible scars on his face and body. He’s naturally sensitive about his appearance, something made even harder to bear because he is every day confronted with what would once have been his mirror image in his twin’s unmarred, strikingly handsome features. But where Sebastian sees only ugliness, Mary sees beauty, strength and courage, and even though she is engaged to someone else, she can’t help seeking Sebastian out, having him and his brothers invited to events at which she will be present and finding reasons to spend time with him.
When Mary’s reputation is irreparably damaged, there is nothing for it but for Sebastian to offer her his hand; but Mary is dismayed when she quickly realises that all Sebastian’s energies are focused on reclaiming his birthright of Pembrook and on exacting revenge upon his uncle – and that his wife comes in a very poor second in Sebastian’s list of priorities.
I didn’t dislike the story, although I had lots of questions – why did the Lost Lords wait so long before returning to society? How on earth did Lord David think he was going to get away with a triple murder? – and found it somewhat insubstantial overall. Not a great deal happens, really, and I confess that I found both Tristan and Rafe to be rather more interesting than their older brother – Rafe in particular, as it’s obvious that he’s been to some pretty dark places in his young life. The ending is a bit rushed and overly melodramatic, and Sebastian’s inability to acknowledge his love for Mary or to accept hers for him gets frustrating quite quickly. On a more positive note, however, I really liked Mary; her loyalty and affection for the brothers in the face of so much disapproval took great courage, and the depth of her love for Sebastian is palpable.
Faye Adele is a narrator I’ve been aware of for some time, but this is the first time I’ve listened to her, and on the strength of her performance here, I would certainly consider doing so again. Her voice is pleasant to the ear and she performs both narrative and dialogue at a good pace and with an appropriate amount of expression and emotion. She differentiates effectively between all the characters and performs the male characters well, using a slight drop in pitch and a brighter timbre which adds a harder edge to their overall tone. There was the odd time when I had to rely on textual indicators in scenes between the three brothers, but most of the time there was enough of a difference between their different tones of voice for me to be able to tell them apart fairly easily. That’s all to the good, and marked this out as an above average performance. But I was surprised by the number of mispronunciations throughout, the principal one of which is Sebastian’s title. Ms Adele pronounces “Keswick” as “Kes-wick” instead of “Kezzick”, and given it appears fairly frequently, it became irritating and nudged me out of the story each time it occurred. Like places such as Warwick (pronounced “Warrick”) or Harwich (pronounced “Harrich”) we frequently don’t pronounce the middle “w” in place names over here, and given that Ms Adele is clearly a native Brit, I found it a surprising mistake. In fact, the audio is also littered with mispronunciations of common words such as “mulish” – which she pronounces as “mull-ish” instead of “mule-ish” , and “debacle” which comes out as something like “deborkel” to name but two. It’s a shame, because these things marred an otherwise very good performance. I know doing re-takes is expensive, and perhaps had it been only two or three words throughout a nine-plus hour audiobook, it might not have been worth it. But when one of the mispronunciations is the central character’s name, I think it warrants a bit more attention.
When it comes down to it, however, Ms Adele’s performance is strong enough where it counts – character differentiation, pacing and expression – to make it possible to enjoy the overall listening experience, although I can’t deny that I’d have rated the narration more highly had it not been for the number of pronunciation errors. The story may not be Ms Heath’s best, but it’s entertaining enough and the strength of the chemistry between Mary and Sebastian is a definite bonus.