Thursday, 3 April 2014

The Ugly Duchess by Eloisa James

The Ugly Duchess (2012) (Piatkus)
Eloisa James
Grade: A
Genre: historical romance / fairytale re-telling
Sex scenes: short of hot
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 

Lady Theodora Saxby (Daisy to her best friend James) might be one of the richest heiresses in England, but she’s not a beauty. Her guardian, the Duke of Ryburn is a reckless spender who has not only got the Dukedom into debt, but also spent a lot of Theo’s inheritance too. His son and Theo’s best friend, James is horrified when he discovers his father’s extravagance but grudgingly accepts that there is no other choice if they’re to avoid scandal and recoup Theo’s money: James is going to have to marry his best friend.

And so it’s under great reluctance that James proposes to his Daisy in a surprisingly romantic and heartfelt plea of love in order to protect his father’s secret. Despite their youth and inexperience, it quickly becomes clear that they are in fact perfect for one another, whatever society thinks about the dashing James deserving a more beautiful future-Duchess. All is going swimmingly on their second day of marriage –until hell breaks loose. The newspapers have dubbed the Ton’s newest bride ‘The Ugly Duchess’ and there’s no getting rid of the moniker. Theo has learnt to ignore society’s harsh gossip, but when she overhears a conversation between James and his father, revealing that her new husband married her for her money, the rose-coloured tint on her new marriage is instantly gone. Initially shocked by their marriage, society is scandalised by their separation and James must find a way to regain Theo’s trust and her heart.

It’s no secret that I love fairytales and their retellings; this series by Eloisa James is a firm favourite. I’m naturally inclined to compare the books to each other but every time I’m faced with this decision, it always seems like a monumental task. The Ugly Duchess was a great addition and one that I’m going to keep returning to.

Theo is fantastic. She’s a lot more rational and business-minded than the short-tempered and fidgety James who often finds himself needing to work off excess energy. Besides having learnt to keep an efficient household, Theo is more than capable of running an estate and where she’s lacking in knowledge, she’s more than willing to learn. Through hard work, calculated risks and a genuine love for her work, Theo gets the estate up and running profitably, making a national name for the established enterprises. There needs to be more entrepreneurial historical heroines like Theo!

The plot is … interesting. I’m not quite sure what I expected Theo and James’ separation to be like – but it certainly wasn’t this! It made for an entertaining read and allowed them both to mature and develop in isolation, after being in each other’s pockets for most of their childhoods. There needed to be more grovelling from James, but I don’t think I’ve ever found a romance novel where the hero has grovelled sufficiently for my liking. Coincidentally, Ms James posted on Facebook a few days ago about her grovelling hero of A Kiss at Midnight (book one in this series) and since my memory is failing me on this point, I’m going to have to get my hands on a copy and see whether the scene lives up to my standards.

Eloisa James needs to rewrite every fairytale ever written. There’s a reason that they’re enduring classics and that they’re the basis of so many re-tellings. Eloisa James writes some of the best I’ve read and I cannot wait to properly start reading Once Upon a Tower. My one quibble is that there are no overlapping characters between the ‘series’! Please rectify!

Image courtesy of Fantastic Fiction.

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