A Cast of Courtly Characters
- Also known as a duke, a duchess, a duchess, another duke not married to either duchess, an earl, a marquess, his daughter, his mistress, his ex-mistress, and the Prince of Wales -
Present to you a romantic farce. Of Shakespearean proportions.
Desperate Duchesses by Eloisa James (@eloisajames)
Series :: Desperate Duchesses, bk 1
I have come to expect the best from Eloisa James, and to date she has yet to let me down.
Like Balogh, whose Someone to Love I recently reviewed and whose Someone to Hold I just had the pleasure of reading, James is a frequent and beloved contributor to the historical romance genre, and she is also a standard setter.
This was my first time reading the “Desperate Duchesses” series, though I had previously read one of the next generation novels, Three Weeks with Lady X.
In fact Three Weeks with Lady X is one of the novels that got me back into reading romances novels a few years ago. There was a period of time where I I hadn’t been reading them and I picked up 3WWLX on a whim and tumbled right back down the rabbit hole. And having enjoyed it so much I was eager to finally read the original Duchesses novels, particular after hearing how beloved they were in our little romance community here one tumblr.
And they were so wonderful - even more than I could have expected. Well deserving of all the praise.
With the Duchesses novels James does something familiar and yet new.
She gives us, for instance, an AMAZING group of women and their loyal and witty friendship. And you know from recent discussions about Lisa Kleypas’ Wallflowers how much I adore strong female friendships in romance novels.
James also gives us a uniquely laid out, layered plot the likes of which I haven’t often seen even in a series romance. As individual romance novels, though they may feature secondary plots which become additional novels, tend to focus very heavily on the novel’s main couple. Which is to say that, thought Desperate Duchesses is story of Damon and Roberta falling in love (more on them in a moment), James never looses sight of the fact that this is also the first novel in an intricate, interlocking series. Which means that she has to balance:
- the individual romance of Damon and Roberta
- the introduction of several vital characters (namely the Duke of Villiers)
- the secondary and EXCRUCIATINGLY slow build up of the relationship between Jemma and her husband Elijah
- a number of other facets that will ultimately be important not so much for the successful completion of this book but for the whole of the series.
It’s like looking at a painstakingly composed piece of music and trying to figure out just HOW the composer managed to keep track of so many different musical themes.
HOW ELOISA? HOW? *cough*
So, Desperate Duchesses is, as suggested, predominantly the story of the romance between Damon “I push people against walls/trees/etc and it’s really hot” Reeve, the Earl of Gryffyn, and Lady Roberta “Recite one line of poetry and I’ll castrate you with my fan” St. Giles - okay she might not actually because she’s so determined to live a proper and controlled life after years of being embarrassed by her eccentric poet father, the “Mad” Marquess.
But she’d think about it. She’d think about it.
Technically the love story between Damon and Roberta only takes up MAYBE half of Desperate Duchesses. I haven’t counted out the actual page distribution but I’d say it’s pretty evenly distributed between Damon/Roberta and Everybody Else (again, the duke, the duchess, the duchess, the other duke, etc).
However the reader isn’t left feeling shorted. The expansive cast is full of characters you’ll wish you could have as friends, and the growing love and attraction between Damon and Roberta is lovely and compelling.
Really, compared to some of the future couples in the series, Damon and Roberta have the easiest road to the altar. Aside from a few personal hangups on Roberta’s side, which she is perfectly happy to be proven wrong about, the two don’t face many insuperable impediments.
If you’ve ever longed for a couple that could just TALK to each other like adults, you want Damon and Roberta.
…. I’m mean I’m a drama dragon. I hoard angst, so I love meaty, complicated miscommunication situations. But I have to admit, the sunny and simple ease with which Roberta and Damon slipped into love was a nice reprieve from wanting to knock character heads together.
This is me usually while reading a romance:
But reading Desperate Duchesses was more like:
Things that I Loved:
- TEDDY! <3 Teddy is my precious darling child and I am really looking forward to seeing him all grown up in Seven Minutes in Heaven, which is tucked neatly on my TBR shelf, waiting for me. It’s like what I went through with Tobias except that I read 3WWLX first and THEN This Duchess of Mine/A Duke of Her Own much later. This time I went in the PROPER order!
- Damon “Look at me I’m such a bad boy” Reeve. Nobody’s buying it Damon. You might have been hot stuff once but now you’re Dad stuff. And anybody with common sense knows that Dad stuff is VASTLY preferable to hot stuff. Because when you’re Dad stuff you’re in touch with your emotions, and you love you child (and you don’t give two figs that he is illegitimate!), and you call him “pumpkin” and make me go:
- VILLIERS. Look if you’ve been following this blog I don’t have to elaborate this point. You KNOW that I am obsessed with Villiers. Obsessed. Just go to my blog and look at my #VILLIERS tag. You’ll see. (Yes the tag really is in screaming caps.)
- THAT ENDING THOUGH. You know that moment in a Shakespearean comedy where everybody’s running around the “greenwood” space of choice swapping disguises and genders and partners and there’s fairies or players or both and it’s just CHAOTIC GOOD FUN!?! Well that’s pretty much what happens towards the end of Desperate Duchesses (except without the fairies or players). I laughed SO hard at the image of the portly Prince of Wales - darling, impossible, irrepressible Prinny - standing at the prow of this river boat poling to the rescue (supposedly). I thought I was going to break a rib.
Things I could live without:
I can’t pick one. I really can’t. The minute I got a few chapters into this book I knew I was going to binge read this whole series. And I did. And I regret absolutely nothing.
If you haven’t read Eloisa James’ “Desperate Duchesses” series than now is the time to pick up this delightful romp of a first book. Desperate Duchess is charming, a little impossible (thus my lovingly designating it a farce), and despite its zany moments is entirely honest and authentic. As always with James the relationships between these characters, protagonists as well as future protagonists, ring true.
These are the sort of friends to make and to keep for years to come.