by Eloisa James, historical (2009)
Avon, $7.99, ISBN 978-0-06-162682-1
It all began with a promise of a love triangle between the scandalous Duchess of Beaumont, Jemma, her estranged husband Elijah, and the scoundrel Leopold, the Duke of Villiers, in Desperate Duchesses, where Jemma plays a chess match with both men, with the winner getting... her. And then, by the time we reach This Duchess Of Mine, Jemma and Elijah have become dumbed-down "We're in love, really!" characters, with poor Villiers having to run around looking for love somewhere else.
I think the problem here is the timing. Author Eloisa James has kept Jemma's story on hold for so long, which is understandable given that any good entertainer knows how to keep her audience in suspense, but by the time I reach this book, the tension from the chess game has fizzled. A part of me feels that this story would have been so much stronger if she has gone back in time and set this story at the same time during the last few books, this time showing how Jemma and Elijah reconcile and discover that they are suitably in love.
Alas, instead, I get a tedious story of two characters bickering as if they are making a case for how boring a marriage can be. Elijah is either too cool to let his wife in or breaking into dramatic episodes of jealousy. I don't know what to make of Jemma at all. She dramatically fled to the Continent for eight years after discovering her husband shagging his then-mistress in his office, and now that she's convinced that he will never cheat on her again, she decides to win his affections by throwing another woman at him. Don't ask me, I don't communicate well with romance heroines of this sort. When Jemma is not determined to get her husband to quit his job so that his heart won't expire, she's being very dramatic with her husband, screeching in insecurity or scolding him for not treating her with respect. I can only think of the beautiful set-up involving erotic games of chess in the first book and sigh when I see how Elijah and Jemma have been reduced into two wildly insecure and jealous creatures who screech and flail at each other before they make vigorous love (all concerns about Elijah's heart forgotten in the heat of passion). Repeat and rinse.
I'm also bewildered by the author's treatment of Elijah. In previous books as well as in this one, it's been made clear that he's remorseful of the pain he'd caused Jemma. He even apologized to her in Duchess By Night. And yet, in this book Ms James doesn't seem to believe that the apology is enough to redeem Elijah, so she starts piling in some tedious drama involving Elijah's mother - just what is it with Ms James and the Crazy Mommy thing, as this is the third book in the series with this plot device? - and how Elijah is striving not to be like his debauched father by shagging his mistress in his office. No, I don't get it either. The guy is remorseful. He has apologized. That's good enough for me, so why is Ms James piling on the tedious psychology here to justify Elijah's behavior? Sometimes an ass is an ass. The best thing we can do is to train that ass to be agreeable rather than to convince everyone why the ass is the way it is. No?
This book is also used to set up Villiers' story, which is next. The author had demonstrated in previous books that she isn't above using Villiers for target practice, so when she has Villiers pining after Jemma again this time around, I'm not buying it. She's done that in Desperate Duchesses, broken Villiers' heart in An Affair Before Christmas, retconned Villiers' feelings for Charlotte and Jemma in Duchess By Night, and now she expects me to fall for the same trick she pulled using Villiers again? Sorry, Ms James, but I'm done feeling sorry for the poor guy. I just want to see him get laid after all the running around the author has put the guy through.
This Duchess Of Mine isn't a bad book. It's just a very dull one. Were this any typical historical romance, I'd wave it aside as a harmless example of a snooze-inducing read. But this is supposed to be one of two books that will end the series with a bang! Instead of giving me the big bang for my $7.99, This Duchess Of Mine fizzles out very quickly.
Maybe it's me. Maybe I can't warm up to this book because I've grown cynical of Ms James' silly games of retconning her own characters' feelings or dumbing them down when it's time for their story. Maybe I've grown disenchanted with how Ms James always initially portrays her future heroines as really wicked women only to retcon things and reassure me that those women aren't that bad when it's time for their story. At any rate, I find this story too dull for words and I'm more relieved than anything else to see it end.
A good closure to a series. Just once, I'd like to see this author close a series with a bang rather than a whimper. Is that too much to ask?
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