The second book in the Reluctant Royals series, A Duke by Default, follows Portia as she cuts many of her ties in New York and moves to Scotland for a sword-making apprenticeship. We are first introduced to Portia as Naledi’s flighty, irresponsible, and self-centered best friend in A Princess in Theory but we get to see her become so much more in A Duke by Default. Her struggles with her undiagnosed ADHD were so relatable and well foreshadowed, as someone that likely also has ADHD I recognized so much of myself in her actions and thought processes, I was convinced she had it before it was even mentioned in the book. And to be clear, these were not some stereotypical representations of ADHD such as being overly loud and rambunctious. Cole actually did the work to explain the different presentations of ADHD and the lower rate of diagnosis in women and managed to make it feel so natural. The moment that she learns about ADHD and that there is a reason for the way her brain works hit me so hard. I’ve been there on so many occasions and that relief is a feeling I’ll never forget.
I also loved seeing Naledi and Portia’s friendship continue to grow and improve. I’ve been on both sides of the issue when you have to sit your friend that is so wrapped up in their own issues down to remind them that friendship is a two-way street. The way Naledi and Portia handled this was lovely and I love the acknowledgment that no important relationship is easy regardless of if it’s romantic or not. Portia’s plan to take a step back from her day-to-day life and work on herself and her relationships is not just a plot device to get her to Scotland, she actively does the work to get better and considers whether she even wants a romantic relationship right now.
The relationship between Portia and her sister Reggie felt so real and painful. There’s so much love and so much resentment between the two and we start to see some of that be resolved in this book. Reggie got meningitis when she was younger and ended up having to use a wheelchair in her daily life. She’s been incredibly successful as a blogger and is clearly her parents’ favorite but she doesn’t want to be. Their parents have been openly comparing since they were young, using Reggie’s disability as a weapon against Portia. One of the specific phrases that Portia remembers is how they constantly bring up that “Reggie got all A’s despite…” and whoo baby I could talk about this phrase forever. Not only does this erase Portia’s struggle with her ADHD that obviously hindered her in school, but it also dehumanizes Reggie and uses her as both a measuring stick and inspiration porn. Portia understands that none of this is Reggie’s fault but interacting with her can be difficult when she represents this ideal that she can’t achieve. Seeing the sisters start to communicate more and heal this divide was amazing. They are also peak mental disability and physical disability solidarity. Reggie is one of the first people to help Portia understand that there isn’t anything wrong with her, the world just isn’t built to support her.
A lot of this review so far has been about Portia because this really is her book but it’s also a romance so let’s discuss that. Tavish McKenzie inherited his armory from his unknown biological father, he’s never been interested in who this mystery man is because his mother and stepfather were amazing. All he wants to do is help other low-income kids in his community stay busy and give them something healthy to do with their time. His brother convinced him to offer the apprenticeship as a media stunt but he gets so much more in return. Portia shows up and completely changes things, she reinvigorates him and redoes all of their media and advertising to make sure that the armory can actually survive. In doing research on the history of the building, she finds that it was owned by a Duke that has since passed and that he had no known heirs, so how did Tavish get it? I’m sure you can guess. I’ll admit that I didn’t always love his perspective, he kept talking about his base instincts and what they wanted to do to Portia but the chemistry between the two more than makes up for it. He really respects her and the work that she is doing both for the armory and for herself. Tavish doesn’t always know what to do with this outgoing American but he really loves her and wants to make her happy, even when she’s just accidentally outed him as the previously unknown son of a duke.
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