REVIEW: Distracting the Duchess by Emily Bryan
Dear Ms. Bryan:
I understand that this is your debut novel and your voice was good enough that I’ll be looking out for your next one book. Unfortunately this one had some problems for me. The main problem was that one part of the conflict was fresh and exciting and the other part was dated and the juxtaposition made the book read uneven.
Artemisia Dalrymple Pelham-Smythe, Duchess of Southwyke, aka Larla is an artist doing a series of paintings of gods and goddesses. Larla was a child prodigy, creating small sculptures and portraitures which were of great demand. As she has aged, though, her work isn’t as well received and she is of the belief that the set of paintings featuring the denizens of the Pantheon will bring her the recognition that she desires. Society looks upon her with some paternalistic amusement and some dismay for Larla is always doing something such as cavorting in a fountain to assist in infusing her Neptune with a wonderful sense of motion.
Trevelyn Deveridge is the younger son of Earl of Warre. He’s the younger son only by a space of minutes as his twin is the heir apparent. He has devoted his life to being the best second son possible and is currently serving the crown in a secret capacity. Ultimately, he plans to complete this mission and then move on to Bombay to make continue his espionage and make his fortune. He learns that a certain Mr. Beddington is the key to an espionage puzzle. Mr. Beddington is connection in someway to Larla and her family so Trev seeks Larla out.
Larla mistakes Trev as the model for the next god in her set, Mars, the god of war. She abruptly tells him to disrobe and proceeds to sketch and paint while he is in the nude with nary a physical reaction which is really disconcerting for Trev. Over time, though, Larla becomes attracted to Trev and, believing he is some poor sot, offers him carte blanche but Trev is mortally offended. I thought this was a hysterical scene.
Larla is contemplating a nice little love nest and Trev reacts with maidenly outrage at the idea and is even more outraged when Larla is confused and confronts him with the fact the men do this all the time.
The subversive nature of this storyline, setting Larla up with the traditionally masculine role and Trev with the corresponding feminine role was really delightful. The parts of the book that challenged normative stereotypes were my favorite: Larla painting nudes, offering carte blanche, Trev’s inability to deal with Larla’s painting of nudes.
Intermixed with the emotional conflict was a spy plot and those were the weakest parts of the book. The espionage plot relies too heavily on the standard and trite themes: Larla doesn’t know anything about spying but gets Trev to take her on a mission; Larla having an Indian nursemaid that knows all and does all; the over familiarity with the servants. One spy scene had Larla reaching for the something on a nighttime mission and she noted that her French gown was sewn so tightly that her seems were ripping. That scene read unintentionally farcical to me and the result of Larla’s involvement was tragically predictable.
I realize that the story might have lacked depth without the spy plot and it was the setup that brought Trev and Larla together, but it was a weak point. I wish it had been all about Larla and her painting and the gender reversal which I thought was fun, fresh and sexy. C.
This book can be purchased in mass market. No ebook format.