Avon, $7.99, ISBN 978-0-06-124560-2
Historical Romance, 2008
When the Duke Returns is the story of Simeon Jermyn, the Duke of Cosway, and Isidore Del’Fino, his child bride whom he had never seen for seven years prior to this story. They were married by proxy in an arrangement between their parents when she was twelve and he was eighteen. He shortly after became struck by wanderlust and left England for all kinds of adventures from searching for the source of the Nile and studying some kind of alternate philosophy-religion under a guru of some sort.
If you had read the previous book in the series, Duchess by Night, you may recall that Isidore decided that the best way to get her husband back to England was by attending a house party of the infamous Lord Strange. By the time that story concluded, Simeon sure enough did show up. This story takes it from there. Don’t worry, this one can stand alone very well, although this is unfortunately because nothing much really happens here.
And… there isn’t really much of a story here, really. When the Duke Returns probably works best as a short story in an anthology, but when the author drags the story out to a full-length format, it really suffers from the fact that this one is sorely in need of a compelling reason to keep me reading. I kept reading hoping to discover that reason, heh, but I won’t blame anyone for giving up on this very boring book halfway.
You see, Isidore wants to have a normal wedded life with her husband. I’m sure we all know by now that Eloisa James doesn’t write about bad girls, only fake ones, so you won’t be surprised if I report that Isidore’s scandalous personality is a sham. She is actually a virgin, she hasn’t even been kissed in a manner that makes her feel funny all over, and she realizes that she is not cut out for playing the field after her short stay at Lord Strange’s place. The author is also doing the same thing with Jemma, with Jemma becoming more and more unlike her portrayal in previous books, so I am not surprised when I realize that the next book is going to be about Jemma hooking back with her husband. Her chemistry with Leopold Villiers has completely fizzled by this point as Ms James has Jemma going, “We’re friends! I’ve always seen you as one!” with regards to Villiers that the whole thing feels suspiciously like a retcon.
As for Simeon, the only reason he doesn’t get busy with Isidore by page thirty is because he wants to retain his zen-like state of emotional control and physical purity. Also, he keeps insisting that Isidore isn’t the wife he is seeking. As the story progresses, it becomes apparent that Ms James is making Simeon recalcitrant and obtuse when it comes to the wife so that the story can be as long as it is. Simeon isn’t an ass, mind you, he just doesn’t want to admit that he likes the wife and allow the story to come to an end.
To keep the story going, Ms James brings back the insane mother from An Affair Before Christmas, recasting her as Simeon’s mother this time around, and has Simeon spend a long time repairing, fixing, and tending to what needs his attention when it comes to his long-neglected estate. As Isidore tries to seduce her husband and he tries to think of his equivalent to England as he tries to master his unruly desires, the story goes in detail about how people in those time unclog a water closet (and I just happened to be eating while I read this book, how lovely), how one tends to various daily administrative matters in an estate, and how medical facilities can be lacking back in those days. Isidore and Simeon discuss her position as a wife and her rights as a woman, because, really, there is nothing as effective when it comes to padding a story as feminist ideals.
Lots of mundane matters crop up in this story, dragging the story out, but the romance lacks a good and credible reason to keep the characters from their happy ending for as long as Ms James has done in here. As a result, I feel really bored as I keep turning the pages. Perhaps having the story set for so long in Simeon’s country seat is the problem – moving the story right into the heart of the Season would have allowed for more interesting events to happen, who knows.
When the Duke Returns has a problem when the most interesting thing about it is that matter pertaining to a massively clogged water closet.