Book Review – A Duke By Default by Alyssa Cole

Have I ever shared that I have a very soft spot for Scotland? I studied abroad there when I was in college, and boy, do I have a soft spot for Scotland. So this book hit me in the soft, squishy feels. But also, Alyssa Cole writes books with LAYERS. I love this one so much.

In A Duke By Default, Portia Hobbs travels to Edinburgh, Scotland for an apprenticeship with a swordmaker. Yes… for realsies. She loves art and she loves history and she’s in the middle of Project: New Portia, and this apprenticeship is exactly what she needs. However, her boss is… not what she was expecting. He’s grumpy and he doesn’t want her advice or help. In fact… he acts like he doesn’t want an apprentice at all. But Portia just keeps doing her thing, and she ends up revamping the entire website for the armory. It’s in her research that she finds out that her boss’s dickhead dad, who left them before he was born… wasn’t such a dickhead after all.

Tavish McKenzie is a legit swordmaker, and he definitely doesn’t need an apprentice. That was a wacky idea his brother came up with in order to try to spread the word about the armory. And his apprentice is… sexy. And also smart and capable and competent as an employee. He tries to put distance between himself and Portia, but he just can’t stay away from her. And then his entire world changes. And when it does, he realizes that Portia is the only thing that really matters to him after all.

a duke by default

3 Things I Loved

  1. Tavish. WE. LOVE. A. GRUMPY. HERO!! Tavish is especially grumpy, but it’s clearly a front for the attraction he feels for Portia, and I can respect that. I’m kind of a grump too, honestly. The thing about Tav is that he’s a really good person. He likes to give back to his community. And seeing that in a character is really refreshing. It makes him human.
  2. Portia. I strongly disliked Portia in Ledi’s story, but she redeems herself spectacularly in her own book. She’s got some family shit that she has to work out, but that’s all part of her growth arc, and watching it was so rewarding.
  3. The side characters. Cole is SO GOOD at creating complex side characters, and this is no exception. Tav’s brother and his wife are especially fun. Honestly, Alyssa Cole may have ruined me for other romances! Nothing quite compares to her.

Dislikes/Problematic Content

Content warning: there’s a date-rape drug allegation in this book. A likely true allegation, but we don’t actually see that play out on the page. No one gets raped, thankfully, but it’s there and it could be triggering for some people.

In addition – Portia’s family treats her terribly, and it has a terribly crippling effect on her self-esteem. Beware of that as well. Some of it is really hard to read and made me really sad.

As for dislikes… I don’t want to give any spoilers away, but there are some characters toward the end that I don’t love. But otherwise, this book was fantastic.


A reminder of the rating scale:

  • Red = DNF, I hated everything
  • Orange = Ugh, no thank you
  • Yellow = I mean, I’ve read worse, but there were problems
  • Green = This was good! 
  • Blue = Oh my gosh, I loved this book!
  • Purple = This is the unicorn of books and I will be rereading it until the binding falls apart and EVERYONE should be reading it!

Do I need to even say much here? I’m giving A Duke By Default a BLUE rating. So, so good. Can’t wait to review the rest of the series! I’m doing the novellas too, just so you know! Hurray!

Happy reading!


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