REVIEW: Desperate Duchesses by Eloisa James
Dear Ms. James:
Maybe I am not your audience. I love your writing which is full of historical detail and great dialogue. Each scenes is amazing. The theme that everyone wants what they perceive that they cannot have wove under and around each character and their interactions. What then, when that is the attraction, happens when you actually get what you want?
The challenge is that there appeared to be many character inconsistencies and the short shrift given, once again, to the main couple’s development of their love story led me to doubt the relationship. Individually the scenes are spectacular. It’s the when the scenes are put together as a whole that the characterizations seem in conflict and the romance always seems to escape me.
Lady Roberta St. Giles and Damon Reeve, Earl of Gryffyn, are engaged in a “I’ll teach you to seduce someone else” game. Roberta has her sights set on marrying the Duke of Villiers and Damon has his sights set on getting Roberta to fall for him, instead.
Roberta is the daughter of a somewhat disgraced earl. Her father is frequently the subject of public mockery and thereby she is tainted by this brush. She has few prospects. One evening she meets the Duke of Villiers, a cold, unfeeling, dishonorable man and decides that she must have him. Roberta feels that he is the ideal man who would never embarass her. I never understood this characterization because the Duke of Villiers is shown to have no care for society and acts as such. Villiers is described as a man of “rigid propriety” yet dresses extravagantly in colors more suited to a woman. He doesn’t marry a young society lady despite the fact of impregnating her. He is bound to embarass Roberta and make her the subject of gossip and pity. Villiers says to Roberta, “If you’re asking me to start giving a damn what the world thinks, I won’t and I can’t. I never have.”
“Because of my lack of convention that you’ve chosen Villiers, is it?” Roberta’s father says to her. Roberta’s slavish devotion to the idea that the Duke of Villiers is the key to her future happiness seemed unreasonable in face of the callousness with which he treats her and the careless and indolent manner in which Villiers values his reputation. If anything, the reputation of Villiers should have pushed Roberta toward a man like Damon.
While Roberta’s attraction to Villiers keeps the conflict between Roberta and Beaumont alive, it seems manufactured. Beaumont’s own attraction to Roberta is hidden. It’s not clear to me when he falls in love with her, whether it is immediate or something that grows over time.
More inconsistencies are include Roberta’s understanding of intercourse. She grew up with a courtesan and says at one time “I suppose that I am in possession of a rather unique amount of information about pleasuring men. At least for someone like me.” Previously she was described as only knowing someone climbs ontop of another and puts his stick in her.
What did work well is the dance or games that wove concurrently throughout the story. Jemma, the Duchess of Beaumont, is a master chess player who takes Roberta under her wing and plots to capture Villiers. She challenges Villiers to a duel of chess. At the same time, the Duke of Beaumont, her estranged husband, asks for a match. Throughout the book, Jemma plays cupid, masterfully manuevering people around her to reach the ultimate goal of marrying Roberta to Villiers.
Jemma and her husband married young. They both made mistakes and now share a cold society marriage. Yet, during the sequences that you see them together, you can feel the palpable longing that neither will readily admit nor are ready to explore. It was as if they were in the early stages of courtship, only they are playing with in the confines of the marriage. A particularly wonderful symbolism were the paintings of Judith and Halferne all over the house (examples of previous wedded unbliss). Jemma is a master strategist but cannot map out a course that leads to her own happiness and when her small overtures toward Beaumont met with denial, I was crushed on her behalf. I despised the other characters in the book that brought hurt to her, I felt for her so much.
I wanted to adore this book because I adore your voice, but I honestly never feel so stupid as when I read one of your books. I feel if there are inconsistencies, I must not be intelligent enough to figure out what is going on. Your writing is so beautiful. Your settings so vivid. Your dialogue smart and witty.. And yet, I never ever get it. And it makes me almost sad. B-