REVIEW: Seducing the Duchess by Ashley March
Dear Ms. March:
I know when the review copy first came to my house, I pretty much passed it over. The title, I think, was a bit twee but a month or so ago, I came across the review copy again and learned that this was your debut book. I love debut books so I thought I would give it a try. We have a first page feature on our blog and the idea behind the first page is to have an opening strong enough that the reader will turn the page and eventually want to read/buy the book. Your opening was very strong. The hero enters a gambling den and spies a woman that is “a sing to be indulged in and never repented.” He has spent six months wooing this “beautiful harlot” and has won her, or so the reader is led to believe. By the end of chapter one, the hero has extricated this harlot from the lap of another man and dragged her off to his carriage.
What the reader is quick to learn is that Philip’s harlot is actually his wife, Charlotte, Duchess of Rutherford. Philip, the Duke of Rutherford, grew up next door to the Squire’s kids, Ethan and Charlotte. Ethan fell in love with and tried to run off with Philip’s fiance. Philip obviously felt betrayed and he took the one thing that he knew that Ethan loved and that was Charlotte. He wooed her, married her and made her confess that she loved him only to be told in return that she was married to exact revenge on her brother and that he does not love her. He then abandons her.
Charlotte runs away and tries to get him to petition for divorce by pretending (unfortunately) to be a harlot, sleeping around with various men, bringing scandal down upon the name. Ultimately, Philip decides that enough is enough because he does love her, regrets his actions and is determined to win her over and sets out to seduce her and make her love him again.
In a lame scheme to win her back, Philip says that he will grant her wish for divorce if she assists him in obtaining the hand of his former fiance (the one that Ethan tried to seduce away) and in the process gets Charlotte to a) spend time with him and b) confess what she thinks are the traits of a good husband.
The reason that I said it was lame is because it didn’t feel sophisticated enough of a plot for either the writing or for Philip. It places the two of them in constant contact which is convenient and necessary but I wished that there had been something else to bring them together because how are you going to convince someone to love you while trying to marry you off to someone else? The plot seemed counter intuitive to Philip’s end goal. And the facade is dropped shortly after making the whole idea seem kind of superfluous.
The other thing that really bothered me was that Charlotte was never unfaithful, not really in mind or body. I loved the idea of the scandalous duchess and the fact that in all the years that they were separated, she never once took a lover was a big, big disappointment. To me this bordered on virgin widow territory. To the outside world, and to Philip, she had taken many lovers. She taunts Philip with this knowledge. Yet he doesn’t care so why make her nearly virginal?
There was another scene that harkened to the early days of romances when Charlotte is caught playing cards with all stablemen, groomsmen, and the butler. Even in the Victorian time period, there were distinct class differences, even between the servants themselves.
But I really did love the marriage in trouble story. It wasn’t enough that the two of them loved each other. It wasn’t even enough that they confessed those feelings for each other. It was about respect and honor and commitment and giving up control–all those things that love is supposed to comprise. In some aspects, the romance between Charlotte and Philip is a reminder that love must be a very unselfish act because it makes you intensely vulnerable to the other. B
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I’m tend to be rather uncritical of romances in general, and, while this book was well-written on the surface, the characters/plotting were just too flawed to work for me. Both Philip and Charlotte behaved with the maturity of, and their actions made just about as much sense as, a 5-year-old’s knock-knock jokes, as they deployed their (or should I say one of Baldrick’s?) cunning plans.
I will take my revenge on my enemy…by breaking his sister’s heart while he’s not even there to know about it!
I will act slutty even though that is totally not my personality in order to assert myself in an unloving relationship!
I will get my wife back by promising her a divorce! And pretending to court someone else!
etc. They just make very little to no sense and go back and forth grasping defeat from the jaws of victory ad nauseam.
But March writes well enough you don’t notice this until too late.
I guess I can forgive some historical inaccuracies if the story is compelling. I like the thought of the heroine playing cards with the servants because I would like to think I would be that kind of person – the kind who wouldn’t care about social status. I know that likely wouldn’t have happened, but it *could* have.
Actually sounds like an interesting read. May have to check that one out.
@Joy Yes, I can see where you were coming from. I think the authorial manipulation to get you to point B from point A were so heavy handed that it could interfere with your enjoyment of the story.
I wanted to read this, but the divorce aspect put me off. So can you tell me – does the author take the difficulty of divorce into consideration? That it took two court cases (a Crim Con and another one) and then an Act of Parliament? And that the wife couldn’t marry again and was socially ruined?
The premise sounds interesting and I love to try new authors. I so want to discover another Judith James!
@Liz Talley: But what about servants, though? Most in the domestic service cared about the social status. Many were snobbish enough to judge those who didn’t ‘respect’ these invisible boundaries, too.
While life in the domestic service can be tough they were employees, not prisoners or slaves, so I’m not sure why people feel the need to make that kind of comment (not caring about the social status). I think I feel uncomfortable with the notion that servants deserved to be pitied(?) when I know many were proud of working in the domestic service. They had very fixed ideas of how things should be done including how the family should conduct themselves whilst in the house.
Please understand, this is not a personal attack or criticism towards you. I think I’m struggling to understand why so many people believe the servants would welcome or love the ‘I’m normal, just like you! Let’s be friends!’ approach from heroines when the reality says otherwise. Know what I mean?
No offense. I know the structure and social system very well. It’s just in fiction I never mind blurring lines a bit. Though there was definite deliniation in class structure, it doesn’t bother me that the author had someone of one class interacting with others of a different class. But I do understand what you mean. It is unlikely that the servants would feel comfortable overstepping those bounds.
Good point. I haven’t read it so it’s hard for me to stand firm on the scene. :)
The book certainly got across that divorce meant social ruin for the woman. I’m not sure about the difficulty–they seem to think it might take months or as long as a year to accomplish.
I could, actually, buy the heroine playing cards with the servants because she was deliberately trying to be outrageous and flout social conventions and thereby drive the hero bugnuts.
@Joy I actually could see the heroine playing cards with the servants too, just not the butler doing it with the stableboys. Also? Marsh has the butler doing crazy things in that book. This was the Victorian times. If he wanted to have his wife watched, why not Bow Street Runner.
This just popped into my head while reading the comments. Even if the husband did ask for divorce, there is no guarantee that he was going to be granted one.
I can’t remember the specifics but I do remember reading about one English case where the divorce was denied because collusion was suspected.
@DS the divorce aspect never really bothered me but the hero says he is the Duke of Retherford. He gets what he wants.
I’m so looking forward to reading this book. It’s near the top of my TBR pile.
It would be a nice twist though if just once the I-promise-to give-you-a-Regency-divorce-if-you-do-this guy found out that he wasn’t the one who actually decided if a divorce was granted. In a books where the two people find out they don’t really want a divorce but are too proud to admit it, that might even be a happy ending of sorts.
I read this book and loved it, but I don’t understand why you were frustated by the fact that she didn’t take lovers. Is it so hard to imagine that she was still in love with her husband and didn’t want to sleep with other men while still married? Is infidelity so appealing?
@Junne Considering that he hurt her badly and she wanted to divorce him and was willing to endure the shame and notoriety of being a) faithless and b) a divorcee, then yes, I would have liked to have seen her enjoy herself physically a bit in the intervening time. Philip did.
Well, this is only my opinion but I would have respected her less if she did.
In fact, I don’t think I would have finished the book. But I kinda understand what you mean, even though to me I can’t imagine their marriage in the future knowing she slept with half London. Given how jealous the hero seems to be, I wouldn’t have believed in their HEA.
I do realize however I’m unfair because he took a mistress, but even though he did I expect the heroine to have moral standards.
That’s why I didn’t even bother to read the Sherry Thomas book about a split couple, knowing the h had cheated.
(Please excuse me for my english, it is not my native language)
On the servant issue – it wasn’t just that the servants would feel personally uncomfortable with their employer playing cards – they might also feel that they’d have to quit if their mistress was judged unacceptable socially. (Which would happen if stories got around that she liked to socialize with the staff.) No one wanted to hire a servant who had worked for someone shunned by society – your employers sins would transfer to you, the servant, and you’d be suspect of either indulging in the same kind of behavior or worse. Which of course no employer would want introduced into their own staff. This is why in many stories where the heroine is supposed to have “sinned” or “fallen” it’s a big deal when a servant plays the “devoted and trusted friend” and stays with her, rather than trying to quickly find another job.
But then, like others are saying, I’ve totally been known to overlook this sort of thing in a romance. Though later, after the reading, I usually do find my brain stuck on all the things that don’t quite logic out.
As I get older, I find that I don’t enjoy these storylines anymore. I don’t know why the woman has to stay faithful while the husband is fully enjoying a physical relationship. So I guess it helps the “HEA” that the world believes she is a “whore” but hubby knows that she really isn’t and that is all important. I believe Lorraine Heath has an upcoming book with a similar storyline — yeah — I didn’t like it either.
okay, I’ll definitely give this one a go. Fingers crossed I find a new author to love.
I read this a couple days ago and while I enjoyed parts of it, I wanted that one scene that was missing. That “flashback” scene where we got to see her reaction when he told her why he married her. We were only “told” about it from his POV but we never “saw” it from hers. I think that could have, for me, made the story more emotional.
@Mad I think that would have been a great scene too!