Desperate Duchesses / Eloisa James. 2007


Eloisa James is one of my favorite authors, and I’ve looked forward to each of her new releases for several years now. Much Ado about You was one I reread a couple of times. But I have to say that her last two books prior to this one were rather disappointing. Now I’m going to venture into unfounded speculation. But I’ve wondered over the last year how someone who is the mother of two young children, holds a demanding full-time job (although maybe she gets her summers off), maintains a visible online presence, and is sometimes found on TV or in print interviews can possibly find time to write. Sometimes I want to tell Ms. James to crawl into a hole and write me some more books, dammit! Her second to last book in particular, The Taming of the Duke, had so many holes I just had to wonder if all that other stuff in her life had her writing to deadline rather than writing her best. Just wondering, and really, her life is her business.

So, this made me rather wary about Desperate Duchesses. It didn’t help that the AAR reviewer gave it such a low grade. Therefore I read the library copy of DD. I wonder if I could trade my copy of TTOTD for DD. ‘Cuz I have to say that DD was much more like the Eloisa James I know and love. It’s not a great book, but I did enjoy it. I thought she did an excellent job of giving it more of a genuine Georgian feel rather than plopping a Regency 20-30 years earlier. I thought her characters were interesting, the dialogue witty, and despite all of the references to chess, it wasn’t condescending or over my head. It helps to know a little about the game—the names of the pieces and their rolls on the board, but I think you could enjoy this book not even knowing that. Some of the poetry was pretty funny; I gather it’s from a real 18th century English poet. Those readers better educated than I (and they are legion) would probably get many nuances that went right by me.

It did “suffer” from too many plotlines. And really, I didn’t mind all of the plotlines because I liked her characters. But then let’s not even bother to try and call this a stand-alone book. Her web site says there will be 4 books in this "series." I think the book itself should be labeled as #1 in a series of 4. Anyhow, this book was as much about Jemma and Elijah as it was Roberta and Damon. I think Jemma and Elijah were far more interesting characters, if only because you know they are each hurting. And Damon was fun; I’d love to have seen way more of him. He knew what he wanted and went after it. Roberta just sort of grew up instantly; there wasn't really a chance for us to see this happen because of the attention that had to be paid to the other events going on. This stuff about too many characters/plotlines is the primary criticism I’ve read in a few other reviews and I agree absolutely. The characters of Villiers, Charlotte, and Harriet were intriguing. Will they show up in future books? Ostensibly this was Roberta and Damon’s book, so theirs is the only relationship that is resolved. Anyhow, a solid B for this one for humor and characterization and just for being a vast improvement over the last 2 books.

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