by Ashley March, historical (2010)
Signet, $6.99, ISBN 978-0-451-23236-6
Ashley March's Seducing The Duchess is very clearly a debut effort, and no, that's not a compliment. The best I can say about the author's performance here is that she made a very decent effort in wrapping up a totally stale and artificial plot in a manner that is... well, readable.
Philip Burgess realizes after all this time that he loves his wife Charlotte. However, the Duke of Rutherford initially married her just to get back at her brother, and thus, he cruelly ditched her after their wedding night and let her know that he didn't want any scrap of her pathetic puppy-eyed devotion to him. So, over the years, Charlotte decided to play the scandalous wife, consorting with hot guys in gaming dens and more. Of course, she's only pretending to be a merry wife, because, despite being a debut author, Ashley March is wise enough to know that a heroine who spreads for other men instead of holding out pathetically for an unworthy wretch is going to earn her plenty of hate mail from readers.
So, Philip now wants Charlotte back even as she wants to drive him into giving her a divorce. Philip's great plan is to grant her the divorce in return for her helping him win back his former fiancée (don't ask - it's a long story). Charlotte loves him too, but because she's convinced that he doesn't care, she's determined to honor this agreement while pushing him for a divorce. I tell you, sometimes we really shouldn't let characters in a romance novel think for themselves. A plan that features a man dressing up in a Girl Guide uniform and entering a Baptist church in the middle of Sunday service to ask whether anyone wants to buy cookies will have a fairer chance at success.
Because these people love each other but come up with convoluted plans which involve telling the other person that they do not care in order to show that they actually care - I can't believe Ashley March made me type the last bit - these characters behave exactly as you might imagine. They get all kinds of wrong assumptions, stir up unnecessary drama, and generally spend a long time acting like silly kids. Charlotte also comes off like a modern day democratic American lady transported into a Victorian-era historical romance, what with her treating all members of her staff as her best friends forever and even playing cards with them.
Seducing The Duchess however does have good points. The opening scene of this book is a splendid example of the author's ability to frame things in an inventive manner. But the premise is just contrived and artificial - a plot created solely to prolong a conflict by having the characters do and say stupid things for as long as possible - and it just shows. It's hard to admire the pretty when the characters are constantly reminding me of how stupid they are every time I turn the page.
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