Christmas with the Duchess
It’s not uncommon for a book to have a family tree, when it’s one in a series of connected stories focusing on a particular family – and God knows there are a lot of those. It’s never a good sign, though, when a single book needs a family tree to deal with all of the characters. Its even worse when not a single one of those characters is at all likable, as is the case with Christmas With the Duchess.
Emma, the widowed Duchess of Warwick, is hosting her in-laws for Christmas. Her late husband’s uncle (with his wife and five unmarried daughters) has taken guardianship of her two sons, and is keeping them from her because of her reputation as a loose woman; he has blackmail against her, and is using it. Along with the five young women, he is also bringing his wife’s nephew, the Earl of Camford. Nicholas St. Austell never anticipated coming into the title, and in fact had been in the Navy for more than half of his twenty years before they found him and passed on the Earldom.
Nicholas falls in love with Emma almost immediately, largely because she decides to flirt with him and threaten her uncle-in-law: if he doesn’t hand over the incriminating letter, she will seduce Nicholas and ruin her uncle’s plans of marrying off one of his daughters to become countess. From here there is lots of drama, misunderstandings, attempted seductions, bed hopping, and one desperate German princess that only speaks in the third person.
There are Alpha heroes, and beta heroes; Nicholas isn’t either. He’s so weak, he’s all the way down the Greek alphabet to be an Omega hero. He’s twenty years old at the beginning of the book (which spans 3 Christmas seasons), and the most naïve and dimwitted “hero” I’ve ever seen. Emma is the opposite; she’s manipulative, self-involved, and basically quite a bitch. She throws Nicholas’s feelings back into his face for almost the entire book, until she finally realizes that she loves him. His puppy-like affection for her, which is entirely based on lies and manipulations, is pathetic, not romantic. I thought their age difference was noticeable as well, too; she’s 29, and he’s 20. It’s not an insignificant age gap, and because of the difference in their experiences, it can be hard to remember that Nicholas is a man rather than a child.
The legions of in-laws can scarcely even be called characters. They’re caricatures. All of them are entirely one-dimensional and all of them self-absorbed and vain and manipulative and back-stabbing and vengeful. There is literally not a single redeemable character in this book. Maybe the young children, but even Emma’s 11 and 13 year old boys are arrogant jerks. It isn’t that these characters are flawed; that would mean they multifaceted or complex. No, everyone in this book is just selfish and petty (except for Nicholas, who is pitiful).
The entire plot and its twists, misdirected notes and mistaken assignations and tricks played on others, is a direct result of the utter horribleness of everyone in this book. I am beginning to run out of adjectives, but as a final thought I’ll sum up the book by saying that it’s the least Christmas-y Christmas novel imaginable: it’s not romantic or uplifting, and the families all hate each other. It may be set in December, but there sure as hell isn’t any holiday spirit.