Thursday, 8 August 2013

The Duke is Mine by Eloisa James

The Duke is Mine (2011) (Piatkus)
Eloisa James
Grade: A
Genre: historical romance / fairytale re-telling
Sex scenes: mild
Source: library 
Happily Ever After: (1) A Kiss at Midnight, (2) When Beauty Tamed the Beast, (3) The Duke is Mine, (4) The Ugly Duchess

Miss Olivia Mayfield Lytton was betrothed to Rupert, the Marquess of Montsurrey and future Duke of Canterwick before she was born. Their respective fathers made a pact at university that the Duke’s eldest son would marry Lytton’s eldest daughter and as a result, twins Olivia and Georgiana have been duchified all their life. The Lyttons don’t seem to understand that there aren’t that many spare Dukes hanging around, yet both daughters are trained equally for the task, with The Mirror of Compliments: A Complete Academy for the Attaining unto the Art of Being a Lady as their bible.

Olivia was born a crucial seven minutes before Georgiana, yet Georgiana is everything that their parents wish their elder daughter was. Not only is Olivia plump to Georgiana’s willowy figure, but she’s also crude, blunt, with a fondness for crumpets and butter. Betrothed as she is, there’s no need for Olivia to be the pinnacle of innocence, but there’s every need for Olivia not to show Georgiana up.

Having lost air at birth, Rupert cannot live a normal life. He will never be the brightest soul, but he understands emotions perfectly and has a heart of gold. Olivia knows that she’ll never be able to hold a meaningful conversation with her husband, but she’s fond of Rupert and his little dog Lucy, and has resigned herself to defending Rupert from snide comments for the rest of their life. She’s been waiting for Rupert to reach 18 for five years so they can marry, but now Rupert has become fixated on getting glory at war first. While she waits for her husband-to-be to return to England, she tags along with Georgiana, who has the invitation their parents have been waiting for …

The Dowager Duchess of Sconce, author of The Mirror of Compliments, is looking for a wife for her son. Quin’s first marriage was a disaster, based on impulsive feelings and hasty proposals, and she’s determined that his second will be his last. She’s invited two eligible ladies to his estate and plans to test their suitability as the next Duchess of Sconce. Georgiana, of course, is the perfect choice – unlike her lewd and snarky older sister. While the Dowager is busying herself with making the right choice, Quin has been tasked with keeping Olivia busy – a dangerous pastime considering the sizzling attraction between them.

This is the story of a woman betrothed to another, who is hopelessly attracted to the Duke her sister is meant to marry, a Duke who should really be old enough to make his own choices, a would-be Duke with a big heart, and a really ugly dog.

Again, it’s been about a year since I read The Duke is Mine the first time. Also again, the delay in review hasn’t been because I didn’t like the book – the ‘A’ Grade shows quite the opposite. I think TDiM has the slight edge over When Beauty Tamed the Beast and I’m going to try and explain why I loved it so much.

Olivia is one of the most wonderful heroines I’ve ever had the joy of reading. Unconventionally, she’s plump, funny to the point of crude, unable to keep her inappropriate thoughts to herself, unfailingly loyal and generally loveable in every way. She’s been unofficially betrothed to Montsurrey since she was born, and so while she’s endured the duchification process, she’s not afraid to say what she thinks because she knows that there’ll be no repercussions. She isn’t bound by the same societal conventions as Georgiana is and she thrives in rebelling against her parents and what everyone expects of a young, unmarried woman her age. It’s fantastic to watch everyone being scandalised by her saucy limericks and blunt observations; this is a heroine who stands up for what she believes in and doesn’t stand down.

Quin is one of those academic heroes who, as a result of a disastrous first marriage, doesn’t believe he can ever find happiness again. He closets himself up with his research, pretends that emotions don’t affect him and leaves his mother to choose his new wife. Once he meets Olivia, he’s smitten. That sounds like a very romance-novel-affliction, but there really is no other word for it. He doesn’t care that his mother has two other girls in mind, that Olivia is engaged to a man who is off fighting for King and country, or that Olivia is the very opposite to what the Dowager would approve of. This is a classic story of two people finding true love and despite the rather crippling circumstances, getting their happy ever after.

As always, brilliantly funny. Eloisa James knows how to make her readers laugh and as far as I’m concerned, she can keep on doing it forever. Olivia is fond of making crude jokes and limericks, to the utter despair of her conservative sister Georgiana. While I love Georgiana in her own right, she’s a bit of a party-pooper. Plus, we’ve got Quin’s sixteen-year-old cousin, Sir Justin Fiebvre, who’s a bit of a dandy and delights in joining in with Olivia to see who can insult the other the worst around the dinner table. Of course, the book is based around the heroine having had to endure years of lessons on how to be the proper duchess, and so it was only fitting that the book contained a superbly entertaining duchess-off. The following is an exchange between Olivia and the Dowager Duchess, the latter being rather annoyed that Olivia has to carry Rupert’s dog Lucy everywhere.

Olivia: “I am quite sure you did not mean to speak of the Marquess of Monsurrey in such a manner, Your Grace. I myself would be reluctant to incur the censure of disloyalty, but I consider this of no account, since I am certain that you had no intention of making a suggestion that would be a wound to your credit, and give blemish to your courtesy … I trust that you are not offended, Your Grace. I am heartened by memory of your own words: ‘A true lady prefers gentle reproof to extravagant compliment.’
Quin didn’t even begin to untangle that; he could see that a gauntlet had just been tossed onto the flagstones at their feet…
Dowager: “I would desire your forgiveness for the indignity of my suggestion.”
Olivia: “Your Grace, I heartily repent any untoward words of my own.”
Justin: “For goodness’ sake, I feel as if I’m watching an elocution lesson.”

This was a wonderful wonderful book. It was difficult to compare to When Beauty Tamed the Beast, because I loved both so much. However, I think that TDiM has the slightest edge because I like Olivia just the teensiest bit more than I did Linnet. They're both fabulous heroines in their own right, but Olivia is funnier and her whole story and ordeal just tugs at my heart-strings that bit more. Of the three books in this series so far, TDiM is the most loosely linked to the fairytale it's based on (The Princess and the Pea), but Eloisa James managed the core elements of the tale rather ingeniously. I have The Ugly Duchess lined up, but I need to read some other stuff first. I have very, very high hopes and I can't wait.

Image courtesy of Fantasic Fiction

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