Daring the Duke
is the second book in Anne Mallory’s Lords of Intrigue series. The book revisits the charming Stephen Chalmers, a secondary character from Masquerading the Marquess
. Having found Stephen more entertaining and three-dimensional than the supposed “hero” of the first book, I was looking forward to reading a novel with him at its centre. I’m happy to say that I was not disappointed.
I have to give Mallory kudos for crafting two such different and yet complimentary leading characters in this novel. As a leading lady, Audrey Kendrick was a mischievous and talented thief whose actions were driven largely by the need to protect her sister. Personally, I found the thief/savior combination made for a strong, independent character, with just enough vulnerability to ensure that she was endearing to the reader. Stephen was the story’s unconventionally playful and nerdy spy character. He was neither dark nor brooding. Instead, he was tender, protective, moral, and guided by his heart as much as his head. It was nice to see a character that exhibited all of these qualities and yet remained a strong leading man.
Mallory set an instant, yet believable chemistry between her hero and heroine that developed so incrementally that it felt both natural and inevitable. If I could liken their relationship arc to anything, I’d say that it was less like a flash fire, and more like the smoldering of hot coals. When Audrey and Stephen finally got together, it was both sweet and intense. The romantic in me couldn’t help but sigh aloud…
Now to the aspect of the book that I didn’t enjoy so much: the climax. One thing that I’ve noticed about Mallory’s work is that she consistently and needlessly overcomplicates the climax of her books. Early in Daring the Duke
she makes it clear that someone else – someone more powerful and vindictive – is pulling Travers’ strings. In my opinion, Travers actually makes for a pretty chilling villain in his own right, and I often felt as filthy as Audrey did after scenes involving him. Unfortunately, instead of recognizing a good idea when she has it, Mallory buries Travers’ importance under first one villain, and then another (both of whom I find far less compelling than Travers). By the time all the layers of the onion have been peeled back, I’m more irritated than intrigued.
Verdict: A vast improvement over the first book in this series, it is clear that Mallory’s ability to craft characters and believable chemistry grew in leaps and bounds between her freshman and sophomore novels.