[Mike had to read this book and review it because of reader votes in Junk Novel Roulette. Find more JNR here.]

Author: Liz Carlyle

2007, Mass Market

Note: [We’re not scoring or filing JNR books as reviews–that’s just too mean]

Despite the deceptive title, a duke is in fact deceived by a dashing damsel in distress in this dreadful Dickensian drama. Antonia Warneham somehow deceives duke Gareth Lloyd (perhaps by forgetting to spout her back story immediately, in everyday conversation, as all the other characters do) and, boy, does she ever pay the price.

Apparently, the book is Carlyle’s warning against the damning deception of dukes, because Antonia suffers greatly for her deceit. If you deceive a duke he will do terrible things, like have sex with you while you are sleepwalking on the rampart (which is considered rape by most) and later say things like, “Let me feast my eyes on your pure English beauty” when the consensual sex actually occurs. (“Let me feast my eyes on your pure English beauty” is what a serial killer says to someone he is keeping tied up in his basement.) So take warning. After deceiving a duke, you will be subject to both his cringe-inducing constant narrative and the awkward sex that nearly, but not entirely, interrupts his babbling. And, of course, a healthy amount of “throbbing” and “thrusting.”

Along the way through the authors plodding, maddenlingly-predictable plot, Carlyle shoe-horns in themes of the time’s antisemitismby with the subtly of a jack-hammer, casually mentions Gareth’s teenage rape at the hands of some scurrilous sailors, and fails to set off even the most basic love triangle. If you were playing a drinking game to this novel by taking a sip of beer whenever you found a romance stereotype, you’d be passed out or sick in less than an hour.

John Fowles’ great novel The French Lieutenant’s Woman is, for all intents and purposes, similar to Carlyle’s novel. Both books are set in Victorian England, both concern romance between star-crossed lovers thwarted by the aristocracy and a rigid class system, and both feature main characters rebelling against their era. What’s missing from Never Deceive a Duke, though, is the character of Fowles himself. In The French Lieutenant’s Woman, Fowles’ narrator often deliniates to educates the reader on the customs of Victorian England, not only setting the story’s place in history but also countering the social sniping and stuffy Victorianism with a modern voice of reason reflecting on a socially confused time. Together, both reader and narrator shake their heads at the plight of poor Charles Smithson and Sarah Woodruff, and see them as they are: casualties of Victorian England’s moral hypocrisy.

In Never Deceive a Duke, the reader is left to provide this voice of reason for him (or, much more likely, her) self. Maybe all that’s really missing is someone to look pityingly on the two dunces in this novel, and giggle at the author’s abysmal prose. With a narrator like Fowles’ elucidating the conventions of the Romance genre, pointing to the myriad clichés as they arise, and cringing, as any modern reader does, at the mystifying dialogue, Never Deceive a Duke could be enjoyed not for the romance that it fails at conjuring, but for the unintentional comedy that so often succeeds. “Come along with me,” such a narrator might say as she takes out her scalpel to dissect this awful novel. “Let us feast our eyes on this pure B-rate beauty.”