Book Review: A Duke by Default

A Duke by Default by Alyssa Cole


Portia is tired of her partygirl ways. She’s sworn off alcohol, men and being a hot mess, and she’s going to Scotland to apprentice as a swordmaker. But Tavish McKenzie is not what she’s expecting, and she is nothing like Tav thought a rich, spoiled American would be either. Their chemistry is off the charts, but the damage between the two needs a battering ram to crush their walls.

“How do you like your dukes? Grumpy? Tortured? Alpha, beta, or alpha in the streets, beta in the sheets?”

Hi, I’m Laurel and I have to admit…this is my first duke romance.

I wasn’t expecting this. I don’t really get the appeal of dukes? I guess they’re slightly more approachable than princes in terms of relatability (???) and because there are more of them than the princes of England or whatever European country is hot right now, they are high in commodity and demand. I have no idea, and I had no intention of going into a duke romance, and yet here we are.

Also, adding to my trepidation was Portia herself. She’s a hot mess in A Princess in Theory, and I wasn’t feeling her story at all because honestly alcoholic messy rich girl with ~mysterious damage~ is not my thing.

And yet Portia wormed herself into my heart.

I felt for her, so achingly much.

She’s the fuck-up twin, made worse because her genius sister had a horrible disease that nearly killed her and left her disabled. And selfishly, Portia knows that her parents wished it was her and not Reggie. Add to the fact that Portia is not as good at school, at applying herself, and constantly bops from project to project without finishing much…it’s honestly a wonder that parents with that much money and that little sense never tested Portia for ADHD.

Anywho, the Hot Mess Podcast (I can’t remember the name) was brilliant, scorching and seared straight into my own messy nature. Portia’s painful past is so poignant (unintentional alliteration, I promise!) and real, because who doesn’t have a sibling that’s a bajillion times better than they are in their parents’ hearts? And who isn’t brought down by terrible bouts of imposter syndrome, anxiety and the struggle not to be a dumpster fire of a person?

Portia just wants to find the right career for her, since she’s in her late twenties and shouldn’t she have found her calling by now?

Tav was an interesting character, as he grew up never knowing his deadbeat father (who had gifted him a historic building when he turned 18 but aside from that never bothered visiting Tav at all) and living with his immigrant parents and experiencing racism and systematic prejudice against people of color and immigrants second-handedly through his half-brother.

I liked that Tav was older and had lived through the majority of his life building up his business, his life and his friends and family in the armory, and that he was also scarred by the relationships of his past and his past marriage. However, it’s hard to imagine a man in his late 30s who has nothing to do with the internet at all. You live in a city, dude—do you never order delivery online?

Portia said it best:

“Tavish, I know your line of work might confuse you, but this is the twenty-first century. You’re . . . well, you’re not young, but even my grandmother has been using the internet since I was a child. Internet access has been classified as a human right. Enough with the acting like it’s some newfangled concept you can just avoid. It’s a business tool.”

Altogether, this book was a delight, and I enjoyed it far better than the first one—which I loved!

I think my favorite parts were the analogies to Portia and Cinderella, that they both found their strength not when their man found them, but when they discovered the self worth in themselves and the courage to leave their previous lives to experience something new and strange and scary and exciting.

And it’s basically a male Cinderella retelling, which is even better!

“People focused so much on the prince slipping on Cinderella’s lost shoe that they didn’t realize the real happily ever after was the moment she realized she was brave enough to go to the damned ball alone in the first place.

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