by Eloisa James, historical (2009)
Avon, $7.99, ISBN 978-0-06-162683-8
After reading the last two rather forgettable books in the Eloisa James' Duchess series for Avon, I try not to have too high expectations when it comes to A Duke Of Her Own. In fact, I put off reading this book for a few days, scared by the synopsis in the back cover which suggests a love triangle, but I eventually caved in and turned the pages while muttering, "Okay, give me your best shot, sweetheart."
Don't worry, there is no love triangle here. It's pretty clear which woman the hero really wants. Meanwhile, I'm sure you know that the hero of this book is the Duke of Villiers. I finally get to know his full name here, and it's Leopold Dautry. The thing is, I personally feel that this guy is not the same Leopold in the previous books. He's too nice and domesticated here. Perhaps it is best to read this book as a standalone story (and unlike Ms James' other books, this one is amazingly capable of standing alone) instead of thinking of it as part of the author's Duchess series.
So, this is the story of one guy, Leopold Dautry, the Duke of Villiers. Having survived a near-fatal injury as a result of a duel, he decides to take stock of his life and become more responsible. First, he has to seek out his six illegitimate children that he had somehow carelessly lost over the years. He'd found four when the story opens, and he is on his way to retrieve the final two from an orphanage. He also needs a wife to help raise these kids. More importantly, he needs the wife to be of the highest standing in Society to counter his own reputation and provide his children with the opportunity to fit in with Society. In other words, he needs to marry the daughter of a Duke.
Lady Eleanor, the daughter of the Duke of Montague, fancies herself the star in her personal Romeo & Juliet story, only her Romeo didn't die - instead, he married another woman as per the requirement in his father's will. When she meets Leopold, she is not interested at first, as she still pines for her darling Gideon. Leopold has another candidate to consider: Lisette, the daughter of the Duke of Gilner; a woman whom people whisper is crazy. As it happens, Lisette and Eleanor are acquaintances from childhood, and all these people along with some assorted secondary characters all end up in the same country house for the duration of this story. Let the fun begin!
I find myself thinking that A Duke Of Her Own is Eloisa James' Lord Of Scoundrels, and I mean this in a good way. There are some superficial similarities. Illegitimate children are involved in the story line, Leopold describes himself as ugly and some people would agree with him, and the heroine Eleanor is someone who doesn't just hold her ground against him, she flummoxes him, delights him, and makes him feel as if he no longer can tell the difference between up and down. This is an excellent story of two characters who are actually very similar once they look beyond first impressions. Both characters are proud, strong-willed, and arrogant.
This book is very funny. Ms James peppers this story with plenty of wry and devastatingly accurate cynical yet witty observations about love, lust, and the games people play behind closed doors, and my sides still ache as I write this review. The fact that the two characters start out feeling so cynical about love makes their eventual falling in love so much sweeter. Leopold may be a bit slow on the uptake about love, but his actions when it comes to seducing and treating Eleanor like a queen are pure poetry. Okay, he can be a little melodramatic, but it's a most beautiful kind of melodrama.
And this is what makes this book amazing - the poetry and the melodrama combine to create a most potent type of eroticism in this story. The love scenes aren't the most explicit that I have read, but... oh my. Take pages 44 to 46. Leopold is kissing Eleanor's hand, apparently a simple action. But Ms James describes the initial stirring of Eleanor's sexual awakening in this deceptively simple scene in such a manner that I have to fan myself. It's not the manner or frequency in which Tab A is inserted into Slot B that is erotic, it's the poetic and sensual way Ms James describes the emotions of her characters to the point that even a simple kiss could make my toes curl.
As for the characters, Ms James sure knows how to emasculate a bad boy. Poor Leopold is straddled with six kids on his path to domesticity, but fortunately for me, he is still arrogant and naughty, if a little too defanged for my liking. But when he starts making the moves on Eleanor, I can only fan myself and think that foolish Jemma doesn't know what she is missing. Eleanor is a great heroine. I have my doubts about her when she starts out as this sulky heroine who is determined to martyr herself for a lost love, but when she comes to her senses, she's a strong and passionate woman with self-awareness and a wry sense of humor rarely found in heroines of this genre. I also love how her past is made a non-issue for Leopold here. How Eleanor learns to let go of her childish infatuation to discover a more mature, complicated, and not always pretty kind of love with Leopold makes this story a most enjoyable one.
The secondary characters are mostly too hilarious, but Lisette is a problematic character in that she soon becomes a plot device to create problem. The main characters develop a contrived blind spot to Lisette's obvious mental issues, humoring her until the inevitable happens.
I have read quite a number of books by this author, but I have to say, Leopold and Eleanor are my favorite couple so far. Just the way he gets her to speak his name... oh, mama. A Duke Of Her Own is simply in a league of its own.
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