Many people are shocked when they hear my favorite romance novel is Pride & Prejudice and that I often watch the movie when I’m in need of inspiration (the Kiera Knightly version. Sorry Colin Firth fans but Matthew Macfadyen walking through the field covered in morning dew to profess his love for Elizabeth with a nervous stutter will forever be one of the sexiest scenes I have ever seen).
They’re probably shocked because my vernacular is more commonly “dude,” or “wait, what?!” compared to the eloquent writing of Jane Austen and this week’s author Eloisa James.
I love my contemporaries, my paranormals, my thrillers, but there something to be said about a good historical. Give me the ridiculous rules of “The Ton,” a rebellious lady, a Duke who is a redeemable idiot, and their fight to true love and I’m a happy little reader.
EJ has been on my TBR (to be read) list forever. I finally got to her last year with her book, “When Beauty Tamed the Beast.” I remember distinctly coming home one Friday night, grabbing my favorite blanket and settling on my couch, opening the first page around 7 pm finishing it at 2 am the next morning, and as I closed the cover I yelled, “where have you been all my life?!”
Eloisa gives us heroines we relate to, heroes we route for (if even sometimes begrudgingly), with plots that thrill, all delivered with a wit similar to Shakespeare. (Fun fact: EJ teaches Shakespeare at a university as her day job… No wonder I love her).
One of her (I think) more underrated books, which happens to also be one of my favorites, is this week’s feature: The Ugly Duchess.
EJ starts us off right away with a good conflict. We enter in the midst of an argument between our hero James Ryburn (who is twenty at the time) the heir to the Duchy of Ashbrook and his father The Duke. We learn James’ father is a fuckwit. Not only has The Duke squandered the family fortune but he’s also dipped into the dowry of our heroine, Theodora Saxby (who is seventeen at the time), his ward since she was an infant (if you’re wondering…yes that’s theft). But it’s cool; The Duke’s got an idea.
Why doesn’t James marry Theo? Yes Theo isn’t a beauty, and she and James were raised like siblings, but it’s cool because they aren’t really related, and she and James are best friends, so they’ll get along just fine. *takes big gulp of air* Also, The Duke says not to worry about the “her not being pretty” thing because once James gets her pregnant and secures an heir, he can just go get a mistress.
James get pissed (+1 point), says Theo isn’t ugly (+50 points), and threatens to throttle his father for evening mentioning the idea (+25 points), putting James and Theo’s friendship at risk (+100 points), and stealing from her (+100 points!).
Sadly, The Duke has put James in a tight spot and uses guilt and some harassing to get him to agree. James says he’ll never take a mistress, makes his dad sign the estate to him, and tells him he’ll live elsewhere. (-1,000 points for agreeing, +10 for the shrewd business agreement with The Duke).
We are then introduced to Theodora , who goes by Theo (which IDK why but this nickname warms my heart) and find she is intelligent, witty, and doesn’t give a flying eff she’s not considered “a beauty,” because she knows people will love her for who she is, not her looks. She also has a developing sense of fashion and creates designs in her head that she’ll wear once she is married and her mother can no longer pick out dresses that are unflattering to Theo. (The anticipation of her inevitable future debut as a kickass fashionista thrilled me).
We love Theo.
After some insight into their relationship with a couple ball scenes, EJ gives us what we want… James proclaims his feelings for Theo (albeit totally sloshed), and Theo and James marry. James because he had to in order to save the estate and his father, Theo because with James false proclamation of love she realizes that he has been the one for her all along. My heart broke a little at that point. BECAUSE SHE DOESN’T KNOW AND YOU KNOW SHE’S GOING TO FIND OUT.
When they marry Theo is dressed in a wedding dress that is highly unflattering for her and the newspapers refer to her as “The Ugly Duchess.” This has Theo wondering why James (who is of course devastatingly handsome) would marry her.
James comforts Theo and you fall in love with him when he says, “I could never marry an ugly woman… I have some pride you know. I married you because you are delectable, and beautiful, and don’t look like all those other girls.”
You think that James will realize he’s an idiot and love Theo and he does… But does he tell her right away before she finds out the truth about why he was suddenly inclined to marry her? Of course not.
So Theo over hears a convo between the fuckwit (The Duke) & James realizing James married her for her money and obviously would never be with an ugly duchess like herself (*sobs*) and kicks both The Duke and James out. Like the frustrating man he is JAMES JUST LEAVES. JUST LEAVES. WTH. COME ON MAN. FIGHT.
You’re feeling so much angst and it’s only like chapter six and this point. (The sign of a good book).
Now let’s remember James is only twenty at this time and Theo only seventeen so EJ wisely has seven years go by meanwhile giving us small glimpses of what they’ve been up to.
Where do they go? Well Theo becomes a fashion force to be reckoned with, sadly her wit and cheery disposition a ghost of what it had been (for James to rekindle mayhaps?) and James becomes…A PIRATE. Yes. Please.
An English Gentlemen gone bad boy? Gimme.
When Theo is in the process of legally declaring James dead in the House of Lords, who comes swaggering in? A large, built, tanned rough looking man with a devilish grin and a tattoo under his eye (YUM). Who is this roguish man? Well duh, it’s James.
I’m clapping with glee at this point… So if you don’t want any spoilers I’ll end it here with saying now we get the quest for Theo and James to find their HEA.
This book will not disappoint. As always, Eloisa James is a master at making you feel all the feels, falling in love with characters that are truly unique individuals, and turning a children’s fairytale into a beautifully crafted love story.
Enjoy! (If you don’t mind spoilers scroll down past these jokes):
Q: What did one elevator say to the other elevator?
A: I think I’m coming down with something.
Q: How did the telephone propose to his girlfriend?
A: He gave her a ring.
And one final one just to make sure….
Q: What does a tree do when it’s ready to go home?
A: It leaves.
Okay guys here’s the spoiler. So James comes back and internally is all I love Daisy. I fucked up. I’m a tanned, dangerous, Pirate man now and I’ve grown up so I’m going to seduce her. Let’s do this.
Theo’s like don’t call me Daisy. I’m moving out. Let’s agree to disagree because everyone knows you married me for money and I’m ugly. Oh and abandoned me for seven years.
James is like wrong. Look at me use your desk to write a correspondence and show you how wrong you are by physically claiming this as my desk just like I will reclaim you.
And in the middle of him imposing himself once again as the Duke that’s when, if you’re like me, you get mad:
” ‘I see,’ she said quietly. ‘If you are wondering whether I betrayed you in the years of your absence, I did not.’
There was a flash of emotion deep in his eyes, but it was gone so quickly that she wasn’t sure she saw it.
‘My answer to that question would be the opposite,’ he said as casually as he was discussing the weather. ‘Two days of marriage failed to impress itself on me. I am fairly certain that most men would understand my lapse.'”
OH. MY. GOD.
I mean as a writer I agree with EJ’s move here having him sleep with women. He needed that growth. I got mad but then I was like “well maybe he’ll know what the fuck is up in bed now.” (A sign I’ve been binge watching Sex In the City too much again). But as a female reader you’re like COME ON DUDE.
But James really has loved Daisy/Theo/Theodora all these years. He loved her since his mother died. And after some seducing, some bathing, and slamming some dick into the wall for talking trash about Theo, in front of all of society to see, James reclaims her heart, and ours as well. Then he goes even further by basically proclaiming to all the gossiping assholes , “my chick bad, my chick hood, my chick do stuff ya wish yours would.” (Thanks Ludacris).
Exit Theo and James into their Happily Ever After.
*Cue us closing book with a sigh of happy*