A Duke of Her Own
Undoubtedly, A Duke of Her Own by Eloisa James was one of the most highly anticipated novels this year for me, as it was for many other readers. The final volume of the Desperate Duchesses series, it was to contain the romance of the charismatic Duke of Villiers, who’d lost a fiancée to another man in Desperate Duchesses, almost died and befriended, not-quite-wooed another lady in An Affair Before Christmas, and lost a third lady to a rival in This Duchess of Mine. If a man was due his romance, it was he. So yes, this is a book I really wanted to read, and expected to love. Unfortunately, it disappointed me sadly – so badly, in fact, that I put it aside for a number of weeks because I just couldn’t be bothered to read on.
The novel begins well enough: Leopold Dauntry, Duke of Villiers, promised on his almost-deathbed that he would personally look after his six illegitimate children. Because of a dishonest lawyer, Leopold lost track of where his children were, and has since rediscovered four. He quickly realizes he needs a wife to bring up the children, and to ease their way into society, his future wife cannot be anything less than a duke’s daughter. At present, there are only two ducal daughters unmarried and of appropriate age in England, and Leopold seeks out both.
At a ball, he meets Lady Eleanor Lindel. Although Leopold and Eleanor hit it off very well from the first, both want to test the waters further before committing themselves. So Eleanor, her mother and her younger (but married) sister Anne visit Lady Lisette, the other candidate, in the country, as do Villiers and his eldest son Tobias. If all of this sounds rather calculating so far, that is because it is. Villiers wants the best possible mother for his children, Eleanor wants to avoid becoming an old maid, and Lisette wants love and attention. Both ladies were embroiled in affairs of the heart in the past, and both are influenced to this day by what they lost.
It is with the beginning of that house party that everything unraveled for me. Lady Lisette is an eccentric, and so is her household. For various reasons, several members of the house party (including the chaperones) fall ill, or depart, or hide in their rooms. So the main characters are left more or less to their own devices. You’d expect they’d use this opportunity to get to know one another better, and they do, but they go about it in a strange way. The heroine is attracted to Leopold, but she’s somehow still reluctant to finally forgo her first love, so she both flirts with him and pushes him away. Leopold’s other possible love interest behaves, in turns, charmingly and abominably, and he’s the only person in the whole novel who only perceives her charming side. Leopold spends the whole middle part of the novel doing precisely nothing. He spends time with both ladies and is stumped in utter passivity. Nor does he understand the women in the slightest, which I find difficult to believe from a man who’s 35 and has had some dealings with the other sex. I found all this vacillating on behalf of the three main characters tedious in the extreme and it made me stop caring about them.
Matters become more exciting again in the last third of the book, and some explanations for the general brainlessness the characters have exhibited so far are given. But that was too late to salvage the novel for me.
On the plus side I ought to mention, the vignettes of Leopold’s children are charming and not cutesy at all, the sex scenes are late in the book but luscious, and I adored Eleanor’s sharp-tongued sister Anne. Alas, she was in too few scenes (partly, I believe, because she does not suffer fools gladly).
As the conclusion to a series I had enjoyed a lot overall, A Duke of her Own was quite a letdown. This was especially disappointing because the characters could have entertained me far more had they been granted a different plot and less dithering. As it is, I recommend the book for those who want to see the series wrapped up, but definitely not for newcomers to Eloisa James. She has done better.