Avon, $7.99, ISBN 978-0-06-238943-5
Historical Romance, 2016
Octavius Mortimer John Allardyce, the sixth Duke of Trent, has found the woman he wants to marry. He knows that she is the one, from the moment they conversed in a party and she captivated him with her American bluntness and wit. Are all American women like this? Unfortunately, Merry Pelford, the American heiress in London, is engaged to his twin brother Cedric. Merry starts having reservations about Cedric from the moment she accepts his ring – which turns out to be “borrowed” from Trent without his permission; it’s a ring meant for the future Duchess of Trent – but she has broken off two engagements in the past and the only reason she is in London is because, back home, people are starting to talk. She is determined to make the best out of her engagement and future nuptial to Cedric, but Trent isn’t making it easy for her by being who he is.
My American Duchess is another one of those stories that make sweeping statements about the virtues of Americans versus the rear end behavior of the English. All Americans are honest and straight up, while nearly all English are shallow and hypocritical asses – the non-asses are those like Trent who embrace the virtues of all-American frankness. Oh, and yes, all Americans are democratic and everything good in life is earned through hard work, and the maids in American big houses are so much happier than their poor counterparts in England because America is the best. Naturally, the whole “Americans are democratic and everyone lives in a meritocratic society” propaganda is spewed out through the point of view of a rich heiress. Nobody asks the house maid whether she is happy kissing rear ends of rich people in America.
If you can overlook this eye-rolling effort by Eloisa James to champion everything American in this story, you then have to overcome another obstacle: Cedric is as deep as Elmer Fudd on rabbit hunting season. He’s a mean drunk, he has outrageously sexist and xenophobic views about everything, and he also thinks of the heroine as a skank for having two ex-boyfriends before. The last leads to a bizarre scene in which Trent champions Merry as a virgin while Cedric insists that she is not – the whole thing is like two little boys arguing over which Sailor Moon girl is “the dirty one”. Also, there is a truly cringe-inducing scene in which Trent helps Merry retrieve a stuck bulldog in a bush while Cedric just stands there and berates her for being unladylike. This story has zero nuances – that scene is the nail-in-coffin moment that causes me to stop taking this story seriously and start viewing it as Looney Tunes does Georgette Heyer instead.
Still, there are two saving graces in this story: Trent and Merry. Both are pretty well-drawn characters in a sea of cartoon characters.
Merry is both a very naïve creature and one who probably knows more about men than anyone would give her credit for. Her problem is that she often gets caught up in the rush of falling in love. When the man is charming, handsome, and sweet, she says yes… only to later become aware of problematic aspects of his behavior that would, correctly, make her unhappy to be married to him. However, because I only get a glimpse of how she behaves around Cedric, and he’s such a caricature, it’s hard for me to discern whether she’s just being horribly blinded by blinkers when she first meets a man or those men she meets are genuinely good pretenders. But Cedric isn’t even being a little subtle here, so who knows? The author’s reliance on caricatures end up sabotaging her main characters as well. Still, I like Merry, and, unlike herself, I don’t think she’s fickle. She just needs to stop a bit and think before she rushes headlong into love.
It’s a good thing, therefore, that the author makes Trent seem such a perfect fit for Merry that, this time, Merry seems to have finally landed the jackpot when it comes to marriage. Trent is really adorable when he’s in love – the author does that whole “normally confident man gone all topsy-turvy” thing very well with this guy, because he’s so endearing. Trent is a nice guy who wants to do the right thing and be happy for his brother, but it’s hard, especially when Cedric is such a poorly-written character that all but gnaws on puppies in his free time.
Speaking of Cedric, don’t worry, he’d reform to get his own story, if the epilogue is anything to go by. You won’t see this happening to female characters who says and does even half the things he says and does here.
But the conflict between those two is basically a waiting game until Merry has had enough to break it off with Cedric, and because Cedric is so obviously wrong for her, the author keeps things going by Merry insisting that she must marry Cedric due to some vow she has made to herself (marry some guy in London or else) while Trent tries to believe that Merry’s presence may somehow help Cedric beat the bottle. As much as I like this couple, the whole merry-go-round seems to go on interminably, and worst of all, these two marry when there is still some way to go before the last page. The story dies abruptly after the marriage, as everything after that point feels like filler that I can’t muster any interest in no matter how hard I try.
I’m being more generous than I should with the final score for My American Duchess because I like the couple. The whole thing is just too much of a cartoon, and the secondary characters’ one-dimensional nature fails to allow the main couple to gain any traction in their story.