James Rhyburn, Earl of Islay, is young, handsome, heir to a duchy, and being coerced into a marriage he doesn’t want. It’s not that he doesn’t like Theodora, or Daisy, as he thinks of her. Quite the contrary! He thinks she’s lovely, despite what everyone else says. And she’s one of his best friends. But she’s also more of a sister than a lover. Nonetheless, when he discovers the disaster his father has brewed, he knows that marrying Daisy is the only way to save his family from scandal– not to mention litigation.
Meanwhile, Theo (she likes using a man’s name) has spent enough time in her first season to know that the only suitors she will ever have are the ones pursuing her for her inheritance, rather than her looks or charm. It also doesn’t help that her mother insists upon dressing her in frills and colors meant to point out that she really is a girl, but only emphasize her body’s painful lack of femininity. When her childhood companion pursues her, it’s like a wonderful dream come true.
But all dreams must end.
I have to admit, I bought this book for the title, not even the cover. I had no idea about the pirates, nor the independent businesses run by a headstrong woman during the Regency era. I only knew I liked Eloisa James’ previous works, and I like stories inspired by older stories. And, you know, I went through my own ugly duckling phase, so this book really spoke to me. The Ugly Duchess struck all the right chords.
It was a little disconcerting watching each of the characters go through their separate “growing up” phases, although, of course such a thing is necessary in an ugly duckling story. There was a part of me that wanted to go slower, dig into each of the characters’ lives just a little deeper– specifically, the parts with the pirates (yum!)– but the rest of me kept screaming, “Get to the romance!” And when she did, oh, it was worth it: such beautifully written tension between two people who knew each other as children and were strangers as adults.
But there was so much else in The Ugly Duchess to enjoy, as well. On the lighter side, there’s a cameo by the Regent, himself, and the hottie pirates all have angry wives back home. But more than that, the characters are well rounded and believable, and I just loved the portrayal of the relationships of the children to their parents. They’re flawed AND loving. They make mistakes, and sometimes live with the consequences for years, if not a lifetime. And yet, there’s always room for redemption.
The Ugly Duchess, for all it’s being based on a fairy tale, deals with some very real emotions, from rejection to triumph. If you need a lift, and you’re willing to go through the ride to get there, this book is good travel guide.
5 Whatzits for good writing, good story, good characters, good sexy times, and for an awesome closing slam!
If you like Eloisa James, you might like … Lila DiPasqua or Julia Quinn.
What do you think about Eloisa James? Or “The Ugly Duchess?” Tell us in the comments below or in our forums!