Avon, $6.99, ISBN 0-06-050810-8
Historical Romance, 2002
Ugh, I hate this. I have everything planned. A rack full of sharp knives and forks and enough bad RITA nominee jokes are waiting to be unleashed in yet another bad review. Then comes that woman to deliver a TKO uppercut on my chin and down I go. Mike Tyson has nothing when it comes to ear gnawing – Eloisa James is merciless.
“Mock me for my hardcover did you? Call me names and parody bad Adam Sandler songs after me, huh? Eat this, eat this, eat this!”
Ow. I give up. I’m broken, bloodied, and bruised. Here’s my white flag of surrender.
I like Duchess in Love.
There’s really no way to describe the house party that is this story. It is one of those stories that just flow along.
There’s Gina, the Duchess of Girton. She has been married to Camden Serrard (the Duke) when she was eleven and he was eighteen (don’t ask, long story involving blackmail and other stuff). They never consummated the marriage, thank goodness, and today, they will be meeting after more than a decade of separation when he comes back to England. He’s going to annul the farce of the marriage. Good, Gina would say. Finally, she can marry her beloved Sebastian.
Then there’s her best friend Esme, who’s a torrid flirt and a just a little less torrid lady when it comes to playing games with the opposite sex, and her bizarre love triangle with her husband and her husband’s mistress. Rounding up the trio of misunderstood scandalous ladies is Carola who finally decides to court the husband she has, er, misplaced quite some time ago.
Oh, and before you people ask, no, there’s no big misunderstanding headache plot developments here. Eloisa James has seen the light, and what a beatific light it is, eh, Ms James? It must be good, because I find Duchess in Love almost a revelation.
For one, it’s funny. It’s very funny when I take into account that every character here is a stereotype that Ms James takes great delight into turning and tweaking into gorgeously droll, mischievous pixies with some of the most double-edged repartees and sarcastic one-liners around. Gina starts out a ridiculous character – her scandalous nature is a result of malicious and untrue gossips, of course (she and her French tutor weren’t having a midnight rendezvous, they were waiting for a meteor shower, a real meteor shower in the astronomic sense by the way), but this supposedly dull brown cow bluestocking turns into a witty, mischievous woman who pouts prettily and demands that her husbands, lovers, or whichever one she can get her hands on to be hot and lusty because she wants her love hot and lusty and nothing less. Her potentially nasty control freak foster momma turns out to be a decent woman in her own way, and every woman here has at least one line that zings past and effectively castrates a man’s ego if he isn’t too careful.
Towards the end, the farce quota rises to the point that it almost jettisons the story, but I am so busy laughing I don’t care that much. I don’t even care that the story is so intent on being witty, the plot and characterization suffer for it. For example, Gina’s a fun character, but if I look too closely (okay, so I did), many of her traits don’t gel together to form a coherent character.
But like I said, however, I don’t care. I suspect many readers will find rather jarring the heroines’ lusty, passionate, and witty nature that often clash badly with the usual sensibilities of most Regency romances or the lesser-drawn heroes as opposed to the heroines. But me, I find this book an unpredictable and often humorous read, somewhat like a Regency tea party infested by the mothers of the ladies of Sex in the City. In this tea party, stereotypes are mercilessly ripped apart even as they are celebrated, and all in all, this is just prime entertainment.
Ouch. This is so humbling. Eloisa James has just trounced me bad. I am eating humble pie now. Not that I concede defeat. I will toughen up my cynicism and rub sandpaper against my tongue so that the next time around, I will not be defeated by this upstart. You hear me, Eloisa James? Same place, same ti…er, whenever the next book comes out. Get your best prose ready. This time it’s war.