At long last, I decided to get a taste of romance novels. I prepared a TBR list searching through a lot of reviews and listening to the DBSA podcast (adorable!), and then I went on to read four books by Mary Balogh in a row (loving The Secret Pearl and absolutely adoring A Precious Jewel).
A DUCHESS WAR was the next book on my list. I had downloaded the free excerpt and, captivated by the beginning, I bought the whole book. I cannot say I was disappointed, because overall I enjoyed reading it, but at the same time it didn’t completely match my expectations.
I started reading it for the romance, but soon discovered that the romance was the last thing that interested me in there. If Minnie and Robert didn’t get together in the end, I would be happy with that; and if they broke up, I would still be happy; I didn’t root for them as a couple, and if this is what you are looking for in a romance novel, well, it didn’t work for me.
Separately, hero and heroine worked for me. But I don’t know how well they fit together. Robert sounded and behaved as if he was ten years her junior. His initial suggestion of flirting with her? Was that really the first and only possible counterattack to her blackmail? I don’t think so. And mentioning her tits? I expected Minnie to slap him at any moment and saying that he was no gentleman. Even if later he explains that lust makes him stupid, I found that a particularly poor interaction. Equally, I didn’t understand the scene on the train and Minnie’s cheerfulness in response to his behaviour. It didn’t sound hot or romantic, just weird. Generally, the sexual puns sounded forced on Minnie’s part.
Without Robert around, Minnie was a great character: clever, resourceful, with her own quiet strength and pride. It saddened me not to find more chapters from her POV after her marriage: and in fact, the trauma of her back-story gets an almost easy solution in face to Robert’s fuss about Oliver’s trial.
I read that people found Robert’s attitude toward peerage and workers inconsistent, and I have to agree. [Gaskell’s North and South works so much better in that respect.] I wondered how he could possibly be credited with the Importation Compromise of 1863, as stated at the beginning – that backstory is not supported by his other actions in the novel. Minnie says as much: “I had not realized that we were allowing twelve-years-old boys to take seats in the House of Lords.”
Generally, I believe that the story could have been better constructed like this:
- A prologue set during Minerva’s trial when she was 12, showing the trauma in real time instead of in flashbacks, and introducing her chess expertise;
- A chapter setting Robert’s interests in the workers’ conditions and the struggles with his peerage, presenting him as a radical from the beginning.
- A scene with Robert’s mother presenting him with marriage to a lord’s daughter, and his own private considerations that he would need an ally in his wife much more than a lover;
- Robert meets Minnie and discovers her strategic mind; he offers marriage as a way to have Minnie’s talents on his side;
- After marriage, Robert and Minnie truly fall in love with each other, etc etc.
The kindle edition is followed by an excerpt from The Heiress Effect (Oliver Marshall’s story) and A Kiss for Midwinter (Lydia Charingford’s story). Both sound interesting enough, and the beginning of The Heiress Effect is downright hilarious. I also thoroughly commend Courtney Milan’s note at the end, saying, “Reviews help other readers find books. I appreciate all reviews, whether positive or negative.” So here is mine....Continua