Duchess for a Day
a Retro Review
originally published on July 25, 1999
There are no two ways about it – Duchess for a Day is a book that defines the word “cheesy.” The love scenes could be entered in the Purple Prose Parody Contest. The plot relies on contrivances like fake amnesia and an unrealistic marriage of convenience. At first, I liked it a little anyway. I couldn’t help getting into the campy spirit of things when the hero and heroine called each other names like “minx” and “cad.” But sadly, the insults started getting a little more serious, and the hero and heroine spent the last part of the book determined to believe the worst of each other. Suddenly the cheesy fun wasn’t so fun any more.
Jocelyn Garnett has been placed in Bedlam by her evil scheming uncle, but just as she’s about to be raped by one of his evil henchmen, her savior arrives in the form of the Agatha Blackburn, Dowager Duchess of Wilcott. A benefactress of Bedlam, Agatha is able to secure Jocelyn’s release – but only by marrying Jocelyn to her grandson, the Duke of Wilcott.
Reyn Blackburn (short for Reynolds and presumably pronounced like the bird rather than the precipitation) is shocked when he returns home to find himself wed. Agatha and Jocelyn feed him a story that Jocelyn is a well-bred woman with amnesia who needs his protection temporarily. Reyn doesn’t believe the amnesia tale for a minute, but he trusts his grandmother, so he’s willing to play along for a while. The truth is that Jocelyn’s evil uncle is out of the country, and she is waiting for his return so she can exact her revenge. There is absolutely no reason she can’t tell Reyn this, but it serves as a convenient plot device. Reyn spends the next two hundred pages trying to get his bride to reveal her secrets, with little success. He does, however, get her in his bed, and the two begin to fall in love. Reyn decides he wants Jocelyn to remain his wife, but she’s not so sure. She feels that she must marry for love, and Reyn doesn’t seem like he will ever love her. Just when Jocelyn finally tells him the truth about her evil step uncle and she and Reyn appear to be working out their differences, they take a bad turn and instead decide not to trust each other. They spend the rest of the book – and I mean right up until the last page – hurling accusations, believing the worst of each other, and hiding more secrets.
It’s really too bad that the book takes such a turn, because I was willing to go along with its cheesy nature up to a point. There was a lot of silliness, but every once in a while it’s kind of fun to read a genuine bodice ripper complete with shredded clothing, manhoods straining against their confines, and the like. And the hero and heroine were both diverting as well, in their own campy way. Unfortunately the lack of trust between the two of them just zapped all fun right out of the story. Jocelyn refused to trust Reyn with the truth about her past, but she would ironically become irate when Reyn didn’t trust her. Then Reyn would return the favor. By the end I really couldn’t keep track of who was mad at whom.
If couples who lack trust don’t bother you, and you enjoy the more flamboyant cliches of romance, then perhaps you might give this one a try. Otherwise, think twice.