I didn't know quite what to expect from Julia Quinn's THE DUKE AND I, but one thing becomes abundantly clear a few pages in: Julia Quinn isn't keen on settings or plots, a good ninety percent of the book contains copious quantities of dialogue and conversation. Maybe some readers find descriptions of settings boring, and Julia Quinn accommodates those readers, she altogether shuns settings and plots. The characterizations of Simon Basset, Duke of Hastings, and Daphne Bridgerton are as bad as they get in romance novels. And I'm not sure what the book is trying to accomplish by having Simon pine and incessantly verbalize "I love you" over and over and over at the end, it's as though book wants to convince its readers that this is a legitimate romantic love. Not.
There is no real plot here, unless you want to count the garden-variety heroine-helps-brooding-hero-over-his-tortured-past storyline as veritable plot.
On the plus side, Julia Quinn exhibits a knack for humor, but definitely no where near the level of quality from, say, a Theresa Medeiros . The only likable character in the novel was the mother, Violet Bridgerton.
The Story, possible spoilers.
Our young, innocent and ordinary-looking heroine Daphne Brigerton has been on the market for two seasons, but she's still looking for that gentlemen to love and return her love with at least some affection. The book paints her characterization in an always-a-friend, never-a-wife light, and she isn't described as an extraordinary beauty either.
Thankfully, our tall, broad-shouldered and rich Duke of Hastings, Simon Basset, is very handsome and easily overlooks Daphne's ordinary looks. Brooding Simon Basset harbors a very haunted and tortured past, and after his hated father passes away, he finally returns to England and meets our Daphne, his best friend Anthony's sister.
Simon detests parties and balls, and propositions to Daphne to make it seem like they're attached. Simon reasons a feigned attachment with Daphne will discourage ravenous mothers with their unwed daughters, while at the same time, it will help Daphne overcome the always-a-friend label and gain her more suitors.
The story spirals into oblivion from there with little point and less romance.
For an "innocent," Daphne Bridgerton is very manipulative. She knows Simon doesn't wish to marry, yet coaxes Simon to join her privately in a garden at one of the ton's events where she could be compromised. Simon desperately tries to dissuade her without any luck. When they're kissing in the garden, Simon still attempts to pull away, hoping to honor Daphne without tainting her before a marriage. At that moment, Daphne cries from Simon's separation and Simon is helpless to return kissing her. Daphne's eldest brother Anthony catches Simon & Daphne and proceeds to pummel Simon. Anthony demands Simon marry Daphne, Simon refuses, and then there's to be a duel between Anthony and Simon. Daphne cannot fathom why Simon would choose a duel and death over marrying her, even though Simon did everything in his power to avoid the tryst in the garden and made it clear from the beginning that he cannot marry.
But the whole affair is Simon's fault because he'd rather die than marry Daphne. Even though Simon feels him marrying Daphne would ruin her life. Even though Daphne knows Simon has a hard look in his eyes whenever he talks about marriage and his father. Even though Daphne took advantage of Simon, not the other way around.
Then, right before the duel, Daphne manipulates Simon again, and implies she'll be ruined if Simon doesn't marry her because word has spread of their tryst in the garden (a couple people know, but it could have been kept under wraps). Daphne believes she is saving Simon because Simon won't shoot Anthony. Uhm why can't she just face down Anthony and tell him to stay out of it?! She's going to manipulate Simon's honor to marry him? Seriously? She makes Simon feel terribly guilty about her potential ruined reputation and forces Simon to marry her before the duel can take place.
Of course there's also Daphne seducing Simon a second time to have children, children Simon vehemently opposes. All of this also turns into Simon's fault. Daphne is good, when Simon is drunk, she manipulates him to have intercourse preventing him to spill his seed outside of her.
I was surprised Daphne didn't just call her brothers over to pummel Simon when Simon leaves her after she manipulates him again. Just call in the brothers to beat up your husband if he isn't doing what you want!
The end was a blur, with Simon constantly apologizing to Daphne for lord knows what, even though it was Daphne who manipulates him to have children. Everything is Simon's fault. Simon turns into a pining, love-sick lapdog, I'm sure every girl's dream. Simon is pretty pathetic, the tortured past that he agonizes over was lame, and his pining at the end was lame. Few romance authors produce believable male characterizations, and Simon doesn't fall in this realistic, believable category, not even close. Read Madeline Hunter for believable male characterizations.
Anyway, to summarize: characterizations - bad, plotting - nonexistent, settings - nonexistent.