Overall: 1/5 Stars
Plot and Themes: 4/5
Awesomeness Factor: 1/5
Review in a Nutshell: The Duke and I had the potential to be an amazing book, but one scene ruined it all for me.
// Content Warning: Child Abuse & Neglect, Rape //
Trigger Warning: I will be discussing the handling of rape and non-consensual sex a lot in this review
Release Date: 1/5/2000
Publisher: Avon Books
Page Count: 384 pages
The Duke & I is the first book in the Bridgertons series, following Daphne Bridgerton and Simon Basset. Daphne is the eldest daughter of the Viscount, but the fourth of her eight siblings. Despite knowing most of the young eligible gentlemen in London, she is struggling to capture their interest when it comes to romance. Meanwhile, her eldest brother’s best friend, Simon, the Duke of Hastings, has no interest in marriage or society. However, when he and Daphne meet, they decide to fake a courtship. This way she can be viewed as desirable, and Simon can avoid the various mothers pushing their daughters at him. It sounds like a great plan, but they didn’t prepare for love.
This book could have been fantastic. For the first 60%, I adored it. The banter was fun and adorable, the romance was great, I loved the characters, and I really enjoyed this take on Regency society. I was going to give this book five stars.
But then one scene ruined it all.
We will get into spoilers a little bit here, but this is important to know before going into it.
Towards the end of the book, Daphne rapes Simon.
Let me give you some context. Simon does not want children, due to trauma from his childhood. Daphne, having grown up in a large family, would like one of her own. For plot reasons, they “have to” get married, and Simon takes advantage of Daphne’s naivety, and lies to her. He tells her he can’t have kids. That is a problem, but the book clearly paints him as in the wrong, and he learns that it was the wrong thing to do, so we won’t talk about that anymore. What we will talk about is what happens next.
[ TW: Rape ]
Daphne finds out he was lying, and they fight. Her being upset here is completely understandable. Simon then gets drunk, and comes back later and begs her to take him back. They go to sleep, but shortly after, Daphne wakes up and decides to get on top of him and have sex with him. He’s half asleep, but he’s into it (although there’s a whole other conversion to be had about how sober he is and how consensual that is). This scene goes from dubious-consent straight to rape when Simon is about to ejaculate. He has made it very clear he doesn’t want children, and does not want to risk children. In this moment, he tries to pull away, but Daphne does not let him and forces him to ejaculate inside of her.
After that, he (rightfully) leaves her. Partially because of what she did to him, and partially because after that happened his stutter, something he has spent his whole life being ashamed of, returned as they were fighting during that scene.
While separated, Daphne seems to think that maybe she did something wrong, but she then seems to almost dismiss it by saying “she just didn’t know” and think about how alone she feels. Her brothers visit her and are angry at Simon for leaving her, because they obviously don’t know the full story.
Eventually, Daphne thinks she might be pregnant due to that night, and writes to Simon telling him. That’s what motivates him to go back to her. When they see each other again, she reveals she’s actually not pregnant (she didn’t lie, she just misread the signs), and Simon reveals that he wants her back. He “didn’t like what [she] did”, but he really only left because of the stutter. They then talk about his issues with his father, which are the whole reason he doesn’t want children, and he eventually decides that maybe he would like kids.
That entire section of the book was deeply upsetting. I didn’t like how they handled Simon’s trauma. I didn’t like how Simon seemed to be blamed for everything. And I, obviously, didn’t like how Daphne raped him and it was easily dismissed.
“But Cait,” you say, “this book came out in 2000. There were different standards then!”
As far as I’m aware, rape was bad in 2000 too. And if this book is being adapted into a show now, then we need to make sure we’re discussing this so the show learns from the books mistakes.
Now that this book will be series on Netflix, I want to see how they handle this section of the book. This is one of the few times where I want an adaptation to completely deviate from the source material. If they keep this in the show, as it is in the book, there is no way I’ll watch it.
As for the book itself, I think my feelings are pretty clear.
Surprisingly, I actually love the Bridgertons series. The other books are great. I found them really fun and quick reads. But if you want to read them, just skip this one.
If you like the idea of this book, but don’t want to read it, I highly recommend My Fake Rake by Eva Leigh! Its a regency romance with plenty of wit, and it focuses on fake dating as well!
What’s your favorite historical romance with fake dating?
(I know, kinda specific, but I’m curious if you have one)