Book Review

Duchess in Love

C+

Title: Duchess in Love
Author: Eloisa James
Publication Info: Avon 2002
ISBN: 0060508108
Genre: Historical: European

All right, finished my first Eloisa James novel, and… well, it wasn’t painful. It was, in fact, mostly pleasant. Overall, though, I think the book was pretty damn lukewarm because—ah, hell, Sarah said it best when we were discussing it last week: “Early parts of the book were fab. And then it felt like the author had a big, “Uh, what do I do now?” moment and ended up driving the story while she applied mascara with one hand, drank coffee with the other, and changed the radio station with her right big toe.”

The book starts off promisingly enough, then degenerates into a morass of misunderstandings that includes every one of the not-inconsiderable secondary cast of characters. The ending is also one of the most odd, drawn-out resolutions I’ve ever read; it’s almost like watching clowns pouring out of a car: just when you think “OK, the last clown is out, show over” another one hops out, does a soft-shoe then drags out yet another compatriot hidden in the trunk, who in turn reaches into the car and presents to us a midget hidden under the back seat.

Gina, Duchess of Girton was married to her childhood friend Camden when she was only 11 and he was only 18. Why exactly they had to be married remains a mystery to me. It’s all incredibly silly: Gina is illegitimate, the product of her father’s liaison with a hot French countess (gotta love those wacky, slutty French countesses). She was unceremoniously dumped at his household when only a few weeks old because the countess didn’t want to be burdened with a child. Her father and her stepmother decided to raise her as their own, and the secret is quite neatly kept until she’s 11, when a blackmailing letter arrives out of the blue threatening to out Gina’s bastardry.

So what do these seemingly rational adults do? Well, Gina’s stepmother’s brother—then the Duke of Girton—calls his son, Cam, down from Oxford to marry the 11-year-old he’s known as his first cousin all his life. How or why this averts scandal or foils the blackmailer completely escapes me, but for whatever reason it worked. Maybe the tactic was so outrageously silly that poor blackmailer was confused and reckoned he’d better stop demanding money from a bunch of lunatics.

Unfortunately, Cam is so outraged by the whole business that he literally leaps out the window after the ceremony (yes, this is indeed a silly book, and the more I have to recount the plot the sillier it seems) and runs away to Greece, where he is free to follow his heart’s desire: sculpt naked women out of marble.

Eleven years down the road, Gina falls in love with Sebastian, Marquess Bonnington, and writes to Cam requesting an annulment. Cam decides to be a good sport. He’s quite fond of Gina, after all, and has kept up a correspondence with her all these years; he just doesn’t want to be married to her. So he returns to England to file the papers. It seems simple enough—that is, until he meets Gina at a house party.

Oh my, the little girl has filled out. He finds himself attracted to the lively, somewhat dashing young woman Gina has become. Then he meets her fiancé, Sebastian. He very accurately classifies him as a prig, and he rapidly realizes that the two of them will be miserable together. Gina is coming to the same realization as well. Sounds good, right? But there are so many obstacles in their way…

Oh, wait. There aren’t. But this doesn’t stop them from manufacturing a few from thin air, of course.

And then there are the secondary romances. First of all, there’s Gina’s friend, Carola Perwinkle. She has been estranged for years from her husband, Tuppy. Why? Because losing her virginity hurt. Oh, and because Tuppy likes to fish and talk about fishing. No, I shit you not. Boiled down to its essence, these are the two reasons for the estrangement. Carola abandons Tuppy in a fit of hysterics mere days after wedding, then in a series of increasingly silly misunderstandings, pushes off the possibility of reconciliation further and further.

Their eventual reunion is sweet enough that it made me go “awwww,” but it also left me feeling incredibly depressed because I just absolutely KNOW Carola is going to pitch a shit-fit over something inconsequential a couple of days down the line and poor Tuppy will be too thickheaded to figure out anything and she’ll just end up moving out in a huff again and really, when I think about Carola all quivering and teary-eyed YET AGAIN I want to bawl out of sheer exasperation myself.

And then there’s Esme Rawlings. You know how in a group of fictional girlfriends there’s always the smart one, the stupid one, the tomboy and the slut? Heh. Anyway, Esme and her husband, Miles, have been estranged for years and years, though for much better reason than Carola and Tuppy: Miles is much older than Esme, and he meets and falls in love with a woman he’s much better suited to after he’s married. Esme has quite the reputation for being a heartbreaker and harlot du jour, though of course it’s quite exaggerated. So guess which completely inappropriate hunka burnin’ love she longs for. Just guess. To give James due credit, she gave plenty of clues but I still didn’t see it until it was right in front of me.

But man, the showdown between her and her light o’ love (I understand their love story becomes a running theme in the three books that follow Duchess in Love) towards of the end of the book just about takes the cake for Dumb Misunderstanding. Ah well, at least the author puts a fresh new spin to it, instead of resorting to conniving parents, cross-dressing and/or long-lost brothers with criminal tendencies.

Oh, wait, scratch the last one, because believe or not, there IS one of those in this book, though he doesn’t belong to Esme, and he doesn’t really cause any misunderstandings. Why exactly he’s in the book at all is a mystery, but then why anything is in this book tends to be pretty enigmatic on the whole, so why mess with a system like that?

The only reason why this book doesn’t dip right into the D range is because of the extremely engaging characters. Gina, Cam, Esme, Sebastian, and yes, even Carola and Tuppy are adorable and fun to read about. Just when I think that, say, Gina and Carola have shot right into the stratospheric heights of stupidity, never to return, they redeem themselves and figure shit out. Or at least Gina figures shit out; Carola just whimpers about how chubby she is and quivers like warm jelly, which, come to think of it, pretty damn well represents what’s sloshing around in her brain box.

So in short: a very entertaining book on the whole, though the plot is… frantic? Yes, frantic and somewhat incoherent. Again, not unlike Carola. Hmmm. I do have to give it this: I did keep turning the pages very briskly just to see what the hell else was going to happen. I just wish I didn’t get the sense that while writing the book, James had a huge wheel in her office labeled with every plot contrivance known to literature (and a few new ones she made up on the spot) and that every 55 pages or so she gave it a vigorous spin, just to keep us on our toeses.

Comments are Closed

  1. 1
    cw says:

    Heh. I felt the same way, and it was my first and last EJ. Just…eh. I have her MUCH ADO ABOUT YOU from the library, so I might give that a try.

    Did you know the genre tag on the review says SFF? I don’t know if that was on purpose or not, just asking. :D

  2. 2
    HelenKay says:

    Sounds like the perfect excuse to stick with contemporaries.

  3. 3
    Candy says:

    Whoops! Thanks for catching that, cw. I’ll correct it post-haste.

    And HelenKay, this book isn’t necessarily representative of the best of the sub-genre. I mean, many people think it is, but I think it’s so-so. And you know how my taste is all impeccable and shit.

  4. 4
    D. Angel says:

    Duchess In Love is the only EJ I’ve read. That I can remember anyway.

    It’s fun on the first read and annoying from the second on.

    I believe Ms James is a Literature professor. She might very well have a list of every plot contrivance known to man on her desk.

  5. 5
    Amy E says:

    I need that list!  I’m sure tossing in a couple random conflicts would greatly improve my own writing.  “Yes, Lord du Cocque, I know we’re a) in love b) already married c) meant to be, and d) alone on a deserted island, but I cannot be with you.  You see, when I was small, my daddy left, so I cannot trust men… despite the thousand miles of frigid, shark-infested waters that surround our little luurve-nest, I’m sure you’ll find a way to leave me.  So no nookie for you.”

    Oh, yeah.  Compelling stuff!

  6. 6
    HelenKay says:

    I’m with Amy. If there’s a list somewhere EJ needs to cough it up.  If there are easy shortcuts out there this woman needs to share.  Sure, all of our books will sound the same but who cares.

  7. 7
    Alison s says:

    I’m sorry, I know I’m petty, but I can’t get past those names. Camden? What Duke in his right mind would call his heir after a London suburb (village, presumably, at the time)? Duke of Girton? Girton was a teeny tiny village in the middle of nowhere until the late nineteenth century, when a women’s Cambridge college was built there. Very small-scale dukedom. Tuppy? Does this lady know what tupping a ewe is, in British rural vocabulary? Maybe she does. Sorry, this is just the sort of thing that makes me find it hard to read American-written historical novels, too many times. I bet Maili agrees.

  8. 8
    Candy says:

    Actually, I was snickering every time I read “Tuppy” as well because I know “tup” is old-fashioned slang for the rumpy pumpy.

    As for Camden—I thought it sounded somewhat odd and a bit modern but really, if I took offence to the odd names bestowed upon romance novel heroes and heroines by their creators, I wouldn’t have any umbrage left for the bad covers.

  9. 9
    Sarah says:

    I did have to stop and think, ‘Camden?’ when I read DiL. It would be like encountering a Duchess named Jaden or a Viscount named…Jaden in an historical.

    *green horned monster enters*

    And Candy – speaking of the exceptionally erudite children, James is a Oxford-trained PhD in Shakespeare. I’m sure her children and anyone near her is as developed in the lexicon as she.

  10. 10
    Maili says:

    Heheheh. You’re right, Alison – I agree. Heck, half of my blog is about dodgy names in historical romances. I do wonder how will you react if you read an English-setting historical romance that has a hero named Devon.

  11. 11
    anu439 says:

    I hope you review, Your Wicked Ways, the third in the series, about Helene. Goddamn I hate that book. I can’t say anything more beyond that or my head will explode.

  12. 12
    Candy says:

    “I hope you review, Your Wicked Ways, the third in the series, about Helene.”

    Uhhh. No. GOD no.

    1. Book features adultery. I hatesss reading about adultery, preciousss.

    2. I’m half-assedly reading Fool For Love, and while it starts out charmingly enough, I’m already starting to get mildly irritated with it. If Fool For Love doesn’t get better than a C, I’m aborting my Eloisa James experiment.

  13. 13
    Sarah says:

    Fool for Love didn’t even merit finishing, I think. I hate it when the heroine gets ruined. One of my pet peeves.

    As for Your Wicked Ways, I can give it a quick review:

    Formerly ballsy heroine with depths of musical talent gets screwed over by immature wastrel of a husband. He begs for her to return as she is the only one in the marriage with any talent, and he needs to siphon some off of her for his current creative effort. Instead of being ballsy, as in previous novels, heroine becomes complete doormat, allows a hero so far gone down the road of unfaithfulness he’s completely unredeemable to treat her like trash, and then ends up “falling” for him. Sarah throws book across room in fit of fury, and laments loss of formerly fabulous heroine, who should have had a much better love story for herself.

    In short, it sucked.

  14. 14
    DPL says:

    I actually really liked this one just because it was so SIMPLE. Nothing huge in the way of plot (e.g. kidnapping, war, murderous rampages that the hero and heroine must somehow avoid) but just some excellent, funny characters who seemed like nice kids who wanted to fall in love.  A very pleasant read.

  15. 15
    Lori says:

    I like Eloisa James because her characters always make me laugh.  In YOUR WICKED WAYS, I found myself have in love with Camden’s mistress because her sly wit was hilarious.

  16. 16
    Jen says:

    I’v always liked EJ!  Haven’t read this one yet, but if its the first of her books you’ve read I would recommend trying another.  Especially her Essex Sisters series.  One of the things I love about her writing is her humor.  Jen :)

  17. 17
    Jan P says:

    Don’t laugh too much at this gal.  We’d like her growing up, living all over the world, top notch schools and now a lit professor who’s Italian count husband helps a lot with kids and house so she can write.  Plus she’s tall, cute and thin..errr.

    Heard her give a talk at a romance writers conference.  She has an real Italian count as a hubbie, he also happens to be a professor.  She gets to split her time between the US and Italy. El’s father is also a prof.. (plus a very well known published poet tho I don’t know who), she’s lived all over the world (from dad’s book advances) as a child and the funniest thing she said at her talk was that her professorial family reacted like she is the black sheep of the family…“a “romance” writer?  I found this book hard to start but found her life more interesting..

  18. 18
    Morgana says:

    I can not even make it to the end of an Eloisa James book. She is so busy reminding her readers how bright she is that she forgets to write a quality romance. We get it Eloisa, you are clever.

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