My American Duchess
The repartée at the beginning of My American Duchess is some of the most witty and snappy dialogue I have ever read in a historical romance. So much so, it may have been hard for the author to go anywhere but down from there. As I settled into the middle of the book there was just the slightest let down from that beginning high. However, that doesn’t mean the second half is not well written. It is and this latest novel from Eloisa James is definitely worth a read.
Merry Pelford is an American heiress who has come to England with her aunt and uncle to find a husband. After breaking off two engagements, she has become known as a jilt in America, so they bring her to England to broaden her hunting grounds, so to speak. Merry doesn’t waste much time before getting engaged to Cedric Allardyce, brother to the Duke of Trent at a society ball. He has barely given Merry a ring and disappeared into the card room before Merry encounters a handsome stranger on the terrace.
Octavius Mortimer John Allardyce, the sixth Duke of Trent, rarely attends social functions, but he has to attend this particular ball to prevent his twin brother Cedric from giving away their mother’s ring; the ring that should go to the next Duchess of Trent – a ring Cedric basically stole. Frustrated, Trent retreats to the terrace to rein in his temper only to be approached by a forward American young lady. The very proper Trent is amazed that he is totally enchanted by the antithesis of everything he believes a duchess ought to be. By the time their conversation comes to a close, Trent has decided that this American woman will be his wife. Imagine his horror when he shortly discovers that his dream woman is already engaged…to his twin.
Merry Pelford begins this book as a somewhat immature young lady trying to grow up and learn from her past. She has mistaken infatuation for love and she does not really trust her own instincts when it comes to that emotion. Merry believes she truly loves Cedric, until she meets his brother. She is determined not to jilt another suitor however and plans to stick to her promise to marry Cedric. While Merry’s vacillation is somewhat irritating, it does ring true for her character. Many young girls become enamored of the idea of love and it takes some maturity to recognize what true love entails. Merry’s problem is that when she does discover true love, it is at odds with her integrity as well as the credibility she is trying to rebuild and she refuses to act on it. Her character is more nuanced than many heroines I have recently encountered and I enjoyed seeing her struggle with her feelings as well as a philosophical reflection on what constitutes love.
The Sixth Duke of Trent had either the fortune or misfortune to arrive in this world a few minutes ahead of his twin brother Cedric. Because he was born first, he inherited the dukedom and all its wealth, while their mother basically turned her back on her firstborn and lavished all of her attention on Cedric. She also taught Cedric to be resentful of his twin. Trent puts up with Cedric’s irresponsibility, drinking and other negative behaviors because he loves him and Cedric is the only family he has left. Cedric feels like Trent has taken everything that could have been his and Trent is determined to keep himself away from Merry, so Cedric cannot accuse him of taking away a wife. Even so, the love triangle is on a collision course that will leave at least one person in tatters.
Merry’s page time with Trent is collectively the best part of this novel. Good dialogue is hard to come by. Great dialogue is even more rare. There is some great dialogue in this book, especially in the first half. Unfortunately, the great dialogue is not sustained throughout, although it is still good. I agonized over whether to bring my grade down over this and finally decided to give full credit on the dialogue score. I also loved Trent, and a maturing Merry grew on me as the story progressed. What ended up bringing my grade down slightly was Cedric’s character. He was just short of being a caricature and what happens to him does not ring entirely true given the way he is characterized throughout the book. But Merry and Trent are the stars of this novel and their story is one worth reading. Eloisa James fans can be happy she has another winner on the shelf.