Title: Desperate Duchesses
Author: Eloisa James
Published: 2007, Avon
Category: Historical Romance
This is only my second Eloisa James. I read one of the books in her last series (about the four sisters, right?) and I liked it pretty well. Enough for me to buy a couple more of her books for the TBR, but not enough to actually read them. ;) But this one is the start of a new series, so I gave it a shot. And I was really impressed!
Lady Roberta St. Giles is cursed with a rather embarrassing father. He's a poet and has the usual accompanying temperament---he's prone to making emotional scenes and then being made fun of in the gossip columns. When Roberta first sees the Duke of Villiers at a ball, she notes his cool imperturbability and realizes that he would never make a scene or embarrass her. So she decides she must marry him. Roberta travels to London and presents herself to her cousin, Jemma, the Duchess of Beaumont, and asks Jemma to help her ensnare Villiers. Also staying at Beaumont House is Jemma's brother Damon, who turns out to be so much fun to be around that Roberta is a bit torn---does she really want to marry the Duke?
This is a very abbreviated summary as there is a really big cast of characters, all with their own little stories. It is a testament to how well written this book is that even though I didn't really like any of the characters for the first hundred pages or so, I still couldn't put it down. Roberta's desire to marry Villiers seems so idiotic and Jemma comes off as cold and a bit manipulative. But both characters grew on me after a while.
Damon was the other reason I kept reading; he is wonderful, a sort of happy-go-lucky kind of guy whose off-handedness and humility do little to hide his obvious intelligence and kindness. And his son was hilarious---not your usual romanticized little angel at all.
The historical details here are very interesting, though I could have done without some of the chess (Jemma is a chess master and challenges both Villiers and her husband to matches---overly long matches, imo). But this book also was surprisingly funny. Cleverly witty in a very good way. The dialogue overall was so well done.
I adored the last three paragraphs! I often cringe at the very end of romance novels, because while I love the HEA, there are only so many ways of saying "they lived happily ever after" without sounding like a cheeseball. This one is lovely.
This book has me thinking I should really pull those other James books out of the TBR. :)