ARC Review: A Duke By Default by Alyssa Cole

Award-winning author Alyssa Cole’s Reluctant Royals series continues with a woman on a quest to be the heroine of her own story and the duke in shining armor she rescues along the way.

New York City socialite and perpetual hot mess Portia Hobbs is tired of disappointing her family, friends, and—most importantly—herself. An apprenticeship with a struggling swordmaker in Scotland is a chance to use her expertise and discover what she’s capable of. Turns out she excels at aggravating her gruff silver fox boss...when she’s not having inappropriate fantasies about his sexy Scottish burr.

Tavish McKenzie doesn’t need a rich, spoiled American telling him how to run his armory...even if she is infuriatingly good at it. Tav tries to rebuff his apprentice, and his attraction to her, but when Portia accidentally discovers that he’s the secret son of a duke, rough-around-the-edges Tav becomes her newest makeover project.

Forging metal into weapons and armor is one thing, but when desire burns out of control and the media spotlight gets too hot to bear, can a commoner turned duke and his posh apprentice find lasting love?

Alyssa Cole writes some of the most exciting romances I've read in recent years, because her casts are diverse and she's telling tales that are as old as time, but that are from points-of-view we don't often get to see. Like her Loyal League series, set during the Civil War, but showing the adventures of a covert ring of abolitionists instead of our usual soldiers and Southern Belles. (Zee reviewed those here and here!) In this, her Reluctant Royals series, we first read the story of the crown prince of an African nation and his betrothed, an American immigrant who knows nothing of her royal past.

This latest installment, A Duke By Default, is an absolutely wonderful addition to Ms. Cole's already stellar list of titles.  It is top-to-bottom spectacular. I'm not usually a fan of royal romances, but this is something different. It's diverse, it's funny, it's relatable, and the characters are terrific. I love that it's a modern take on the duke trope, and that the duke in question is a genuinely decent man who actually deserves the good fortune bestowed upon him. I also love that Tav's main concern in accepting his new position is helping people—helping his family and his community. Like I said, he deserves his position. 

I also fell head-over-heels in love with Portia. Portia made some mistakes in the first book, and in this one she is devoting herself fully to being a better person, which you've got to love. Portia is also brilliant, resourceful, can find just about any information you could possibly want, and she's always eager to learn new things. But what I related to most was Portia's inner voice—the one that worries constantly if she's loved, if she's accepted, if she's wanted. Several times I was reading and had to put my reader down, stunned that Portia's thoughts, Alyssa Cole's words; all of those self-doubts could have come from my own head. It's always wonderful to feel like you're not alone in the world, not the only one dealing with a brain that's just an asshole, and I loved finding that in this brilliant, beautiful woman. 

The bottom line is: I love this book, I love this series, and I want everyone looking for an escape from our dumpster-fire world to read this. It's the multicultural cure for what ails us.

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