I think it's been a while since I've seen such an even split among my friends when it comes to how they rated the book. Half my friends loved THE DUKE AND I and the other half apparently hated it. The Bridgertons series is Julia Quinn's most famous historical romance offering so I've been wanting to read it for a while, but I'm not unfamiliar with her work. In my opinion, she's a bit notorious for over-aggressive heroines who come across as petulant and bitchy and Big Misunderstandings that are especially stupid and tends to draw them out for extra dramatic tension in the last act.
The titular duke, Simon Basset, is cast in your typical damaged hero mold of "I slut around because I have daddy issues." In his case, the issues are probably warranted. He didn't speak until he was four years old, and when he did, it was with a stutter. After his dad basically rage-quits on parenting, Simon is left on his own, unloved, except for the tender hand of his nurse. His father basically disowns him, telling his servants and all his friends that he has no son, and refuses to answer any of his correspondence.
Of course, once Simon is able to overcome all of this and become the most desired bachelor in the ton, his father is secretly pleased and ready to take pride in his son because hurray, Simon got over his stutter and that means that he isn't mentally defunct, i.e. "an idiot." Simon is so over his dad, though, and since breeding, honor, and titles are all that matter to his father, he has vowed never to have children so that the Hastings line dies with him, and all the property will cede to his cousins.
Daphne, the heroine, is part of the Bridgerton family, and the daughter of a viscount. They name their children like hurricanes, in alphabetical order, chronologically, so Daphne is the fourth-born child (as well as the oldest daughter). She's also a bit of a wallflower and a spinster-in-the-making, and her mother is determined to make a match. Daphne's brothers are friends with Simon, and they end up meeting at a party when Simon saves her from a creepy friend-zoned suitor who won't take no for an answer. They end up liking each other, although Simon denies his attraction once he's figured out that she's the off-limits sister of his friend. They decide to pretend to have developed a tendre for one another, to keep Simon's unwanted suitors at bay while also making Daphne more desirable. Too bad that he ends up compromising her and Daphne's oldest brother, Anthony, calls him out at dawn.
Knowing that Simon's honor will lead him to not fire, and that Anthony's rage on her behalf will undoubtedly result in a killing shot, Daphne demands that they be married and Simon protests, much to Daphne's hurt (because he'd rather be dead than marry her? ouch). He tells her that he can't have children and that since she's always yapping about wanting a Little Women type family, he doesn't want her to be unhappy. Daphne tells him he's worth it and insists. And it seems like this actually might be a cute little love story...until Daphne rapes her husband in order to forcibly get him to impregnate her. That's right, when Simon is drunk, Daphne mounts him and then hunkers down on him so that he has no choice but to come inside her, and she is so smug and so pleased, thinking that she has "fixed" him and then has the gall to cry and get all teary and sanctimonious when he is angry.
My friends had warned me about this scene going in, but reading it still left a hugely bitter taste in my mouth. Now, I do want to say that as a reader of bodice-rippers, I am no stranger to unconsensual scenes in books. But there is a major difference between acts of rape in which the rapist is depicted as a rapist, and acts of rape in which the rapist is depicted as having the moral high ground. This is part of the reason sexism is so harmful: not just because women are victimized or robbed of agency, but also because people don't ever think that women can be the perpetrators of physical or sexual violence, because they are so "harmless," and so we get bullshit scenes like this.
Daphne can fuck right off.
1.5 to 2 out of 5 stars