S02E04. A Duke By Default

Portia Hobbs, ‘perpetual hot mess’, meets Tavish McKenzie, gruff Scottish swordsman. Sparks fly, and self-discoveries abound. We discuss the book’s portrayal of ADHD and how this experience can impact on a person’s self-beliefs. We also chat about positive female friendships, difficult family dynamics, and (of course) the central romance.

Mental health issues covered: Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) and its impacts on self-esteem and relationships

Additional trigger warnings: sexual content, sexism, racism, classism, difficult family relationship, use of date rape drug, alcoholism (mentioned)

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About the Book

New York City socialite and perpetual hot mess Portia Hobbs is tired of disappointing her family, friends, and—most importantly—herself. An apprenticeship with a struggling swordmaker in Scotland is a chance to use her expertise and discover what she’s capable of. Turns out she excels at aggravating her gruff silver fox boss…when she’s not having inappropriate fantasies about his sexy Scottish burr.

Tavish McKenzie doesn’t need a rich, spoiled American telling him how to run his armory…even if she is infuriatingly good at it. Tav tries to rebuff his apprentice, and his attraction to her, but when Portia accidentally discovers that he’s the secret son of a duke, rough-around-the-edges Tav becomes her newest makeover project.

Forging metal into weapons and armor is one thing, but when desire burns out of control and the media spotlight gets too hot to bear, can a commoner turned duke and his posh apprentice find lasting love?

This is Book #2 in the Reluctant Royals series.

About the Author

Alyssa Cole is a New York Times and USA Today Bestselling author of romance (historical, contemporary, and sci-fi) and thrillers. Her Civil War-set espionage romance An Extraordinary Union was the American Library Association’s RUSA Best Romance for 2018, and A Princess in Theory was one of the New York Times’ 100 Notable Books of 2018. She’s contributed to publications including Bustle, Shondaland, The Toast, Vulture, RT Book Reviews, and Heroes and Heartbreakers, and her books have received critical acclaim from many publications.

In an interview, Alyssa has also spoken about how she came to self-diagnose as ADHD which was then confirmed by a therapist. She said: “I’d already kind of worked this out on the page, via Portia, but the realization that you aren’t fundamentally fucked up is really huge. That your brain works differently, and there are reasons behind this, and some things you can change with work and some things you can’t, but that there is nothing WRONG with you? That’s a lot to take in! And I wish I had known earlier.”

Our Thoughts

We had so much fun reading and discussing A Duke by Default! The chemistry between Portia and Tav (#swordbae) is excellent, and the romance is solid and fun. We both thought that the ADHD representation is well done, and particularly regarding how Portia’s experience led to such negative core beliefs (“I’m a hot mess” etc). We also love seeing the ADHD rep in a romance novel, which is not something we’ve come across before! Another thing to highlight is the value placed on female friendships both by the characters and the narrative, which is a theme carried from A Princess in Theory.

One criticism Elise has is of the pacing: some aspects felt rushed, particularly the last 40 pages. She also felt the story was a little predictable, but still enjoyed this book the most of the three in the series. Priscilla has no complaints, but her favourite of the series is Book 3: A Prince on Paper.

Recommended Readings

Relevant mental health resources:

  • ADHD Australia is one resource for information around ADHD and ways to help manage its characteristics. Another is CHADD.
  • This ABC News’ article talks about ADHD in girls and women.
  • this article in The Conversation talks about the difficulties of being diagnosed with ADHD as an adult in the UK.
  • Though Hot Mess Helper isn’t a real YouTube Channel, there is How to ADHD. Created by Jessica McCabe, who is diagnosed with ADHD herself, the channel is brimming with information and practical advice for living with ADHD. (Alyssa Cole herself said she has found these videos helpful!)

More stories like A Duke by Default:

  • If you enjoyed this book, you should definitely check out the rest of the Reluctant Royals series.
  • If you enjoyed Tav’s duke lessons, you may enjoy Tessa Dare’s Any Duchess Will Do, in which a duke attempts to transform a serving girl into a duchess.
  • Check out our recommendations in our Noni Blake episode for more romance recs!

Voices from Lived Experience

Here are some of the views we found from people who have experienced similar situations from the book.

  • Melanie from Mel to the Any is a book reviewer with ADHD and said: ‘Attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder, along with most mental illness, is still hella stigmatized, but seeing Portia slowing coming to the realization that nothing is wrong her, that she was just a little different, that she’s the furthest thing from a failure, and her realizing her self-worth was an honor to read and brought me to tears so many times.’
  • While not directly related to the book, this talk from Jessica McCabe about her experience with ADHD is worth watching.

On the TBR Pile

  • If you have any recommendations of books that explore similar themes to A Duke by Default, let us know!

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