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Thursday, July 26, 2012

Desperate Duchesses by Eloisa James


A marquess's sheltered only daughter, Lady Roberta St. Giles falls in love with a man she glimpses across a crowded ballroom: a duke, a game player of consummate skill, a notorious rakehell who shows no interest in marriage—until he lays eyes on Roberta.

Yet the Earl of Gryffyn knows too well that the price required to gain a coronet is often too high. Damon Reeve, the earl, is determined to protect the exquisite Roberta from chasing after the wrong destiny.

Can Damon entice her into a high-stakes game of his own, even if his heart is likely to be lost in the venture?






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A fun, mostly lighthearted historical romance that is both intelligent and entertaining. The first part of the book has a very Midsummer Night's Dream feel to it that persists to a degree throughout the book. Certainly it retains the feel of a Shakespearean comedy even as things gradually become a touch more serious throughout. The various characters seem at first glance to be somewhat two-dimensional and shallow, though as you get to know them throughout the book you begin to see hidden depths that they hide from those around them, and sometimes that they've been hiding from themselves.



Roberta is a young noble woman who's been stuck in the country with her highly eccentric father, the Marquess of Wharton and Malmsbury, who hasn't seemed terribly inclined to find her a husband or aid her overmuch in finding one for herself. His outrageous reputation as the Mad Marquess has meant they seldom receive invitations to balls and other events thrown by the ton. After a chance meeting with the Duke of Villiers at a New Year's ball, one of the rare events she and her father were invited to attend, she decides that she wishes to marry him. To help accomplish this, she flees to London and invites herself to stay with her distant cousin Jemma, the Duchess of Beaumont, who is newly returned from an 8 year stay in France. Roberta thinks herself to be worldly, having grown up with one or another of her father's mistresses in residence at their estate since she was young, but in truth she is incredibly naive about how high society works. It isn't long before she's rather bluntly educated about some matters and quickly starts to attain a certain level of sophistication while at the same time retaining the innocence of a girl that's led a sheltered life in the country her entire life.

Damon, the Earl of Gryffyn, is Jemma's brother, and thus also Roberta's cousin, though the familial link between them is distant enough for even most modern people to accept a more romantic relationship between them (sixth or seventh cousins by their best reckoning I believe, and perhaps more distant than that). He is currently staying with his five-year-old illegitimate son at Beaumont house with his sister to help her re-acclimate to London and to provide moral support as she attempts to take up her wifely duties once more after being largely estranged from her husband for several years. The fact that he insists on keeping his son with him instead of shuffling him off to the country somewhere, and takes an active role in the child's life immediately shows that he isn't your typical romance novel rogue. He decides that he wants Roberta almost immediately upon meeting her, and wastes little time in starting to woo her despite her declaration that she is already in love with the Duke of Villiers.

There are several other characters who figure prominently and deserve mention, though I'll only gloss over them here. Presumably most of them get their own book in this series eventually. First off of course is Jemma, Duchess of Beaumont, who is quite the socialite and has acquired a somewhat scandalous reputation in England during her time in France, though much of that is based on stories of her activities that were highly exaggerated by the time they made it to London. She is also an avid chess player, and it is in many ways her one true passion. The Duke of Villiers is also an avid chess player, and it consumes his attention and interest even more than it does Jemma's, for she does also concern herself with fashion and entertaining and the like. The final character of note is Elijah, Duke of Beaumont, Jemma's husband. Politics and his career in the House of Lords is his passion, and his almost single-minded focus on his career and building his political standing is part of what drove him and Emma apart in the past.

Chess figures prominently throughout the storyline, and the extended matches that are being played out one move per day between Jemma and Villiers, and between Jemma and her husband provide some of the framework for the novel, as well as providing reason for some of the characters to have occasion to meet. Those who have a good understanding of the game might get more from some of the more detailed discussions of moves and strategies, though it's certainly not necessary to understanding what's going on and those like myself who have only a general familiarity with it will understand enough to appreciate some of the allusions being made.

An entertaining novel that is sure to please fans of historical romance, or even those who just like a lighthearted read full of comical moments. I'd recommend this to most anyone aside from those that simply don't like romance of this sort at all.

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