I’ve always found it interesting that it’s so much easier to articulate why you dislike something rather than like it — but I guess it makes sense, as you can like something without being fully aware of everything that comes together (indeed, when it comes together so seamlessly, that’s half the intent — I don’t expect people to be impressed by draw animations and cover blends, but ensuring they look perfect to the eye only lets the mechanics involved go unnoticed). Dislike usually has reasons, things you can point to and say “This, this was a problem”.
For Four Nights With the Duke, unfortunately, ‘this’ happens to be most of the book — and spoilers, so many spoilers abound here. I always find it interesting when an author that is usually an auto-buy and generally delightful for me has a book that for me is a complete bomb, and to see what it was about the book I didn’t like — and how much of that is shaped by my experiences and views of the characters versus someone else’s.
Interestingly, I really enjoyed the book before, Three Weeks With Lady X. Eloisa James is definitely a long-time favourite author of mine with a lot more hits than misses, and while this current series is not as compelling to me as some of the previous ones have been, I liked Xenobia (okay, I loved an interior designer as a heroine). I liked Mia a fair bit as well, actually — she was brave, she was strong, she was understandably baffled by a lot of what was going on, quite understandably hurt by a lot of it, but she never doubted herself or her love for her nephew. She never doubted that she loved being a secret novelist or gave any hints that she’d ever give it up. She knew what she wanted, and part of that was to be loved the way she wanted to be loved, and respected the way she wanted to be respected.
Unfortunately, Vander is where everything kind of falls apart. He’s a bag of assholes from the start, and I never really felt he’d changed at all during the course of the book. There’s a mention near the end where he says how he wants to fuck Mia really means how much he loves her, but… well. I’m glad she wasn’t really keen on that being an excuse either? He gaslights her, insults her constantly (and she’s bang-on that he says these things in moments of truth, and he denies it, except it IS exactly how he feels), he intentionally is as hurtful as possible… basically everything that she calls him out on near the end, he’s in fact not only guilty of, but is unchanged by the end of the book.
There’s also the whole, uh, dubious role of consent in this book. There’s ONE line that attempts to clear this up (“She knew if she said no, he’d stop”) except he’s already proven in pretty much every encounter that if she says “No” or “Stop” he… will ignore her and keep right on. In fact, she says no pretty much constantly, and is never listened to. Not once. She’s not even consulted on most things, and when she flat-out says no, he kisses her to shut her up and then I guess it’s supposed to be all good because he gets a bodily reaction from her?
The scene that was most disturbing for me was the bathing-room scene, because that was outright scary, and I don’t like my romance characters scary. She had nowhere to hide or feel safe except for the bathroom with two flimsy locks on it, and when he comes to find her — and she knows he’ll come after her because goodness forbid she get the last word if that word is “no” — he breaks the door down to her yells of terror and telling him to leave her alone.
He breaks. The door. Down.
This isn’t romantic, it’s a page right out of the book of my own life, and made my skin crawl. The only reason I was ever any safer was our locks are a little better, my dad too drunk to climb the stairs or properly batter a door down, my ex too aware that it would be construed as a physical threat. Because it was. I didn’t have a lock on the door, and the day he came through it was the day I left, because it drove home that I was not safe in my own house, in my own bedroom, from the person I was living with. That words were no boundary or barrier and he’d use physical strength to get what he wanted (and what he wanted was… I don’t know. No one will ever know).
Edward being painted as a murderer and therefore totes okay for Mia to not be interested was odd, too, especially as he’s the hero of the next book in the series. I was pretty convinced that Vander and Thorn were going to kill Richard, actually — the shock was that they weren’t, especially since (of course) he comes back to almost kill Charlie and Mia. Because of course he was. Not just because of melodrama but someone had to do something heroic at some point, and fucking a woman against her will was not fitting the bill.
Not that anyone seemed to care a whole lot that Charlie was almost killed or Mia might be, y’know, mildly upset by being assaulted after watching someone almost kill her almost-a-son. Nah, time to bodily lift her around, as Vander had done the whole book to get his way (because physical intimidation, totally not a thing, short people are just “pocket venuses” don’t ya know?).
It’s funny because I likely sound more upset by this book than I really am. I didn’t enjoy it — the first 50% was an exercise in heartache and hoping it would get better. When it hadn’t by 98%, well. Yeah. I wouldn’t re-read this nor recommend it, but I wouldn’t go out of my way to say “Oh this is awful, don’t ever”. It’d fit as a 2-star if I had to do stars, mostly because 1-stars mean it was awful with no redeeming qualities. This was just something that I didn’t enjoy, bothered me a fair bit, but I read from start to finish and I’ll likely read the next in the series (although I’ll wait for it to go on sale first).
There were things I enjoyed. I loved Jafeer and his characterization. I liked Charlie. I liked Chuffy (I’d rather see HIM as the next hero!). I delighted in the not-very-secret homages to Julia Quinn and Lisa Kleypas and still get a kick out of the shared characters and world between some of the books (especially Miss Butterworth and her continuing misadventures). I’m pretty sure a duke wouldn’t get away with just hanging out in the stables all day and it’s rather disheartening that he didn’t seem to care at all about his tenants (or Mia’s, although she briefly thinks of them regarding re-thatching roofs at least) or interest in the local justice, but hey, if billionaires can be playboys who do nothing all day, I guess dukes can be stablehands, too.