The Bluestocking Duchess
The Bluestocking Duchess launches Julia Justiss’ new Heirs in Waiting series. It’s a well written friends-to-lovers tale that is sweet but doesn’t quite have the passion or charm of other books I’ve read by this author.
Jocelyn Sudderfeld is the daughter of the Duke of Farisdeen’s estate librarian and the sister of the man the duke is sponsoring to translate ancient Greek plays into English. On paper, Jocelyn’s role is to transcribe what her father and brother Virgil translate, but in reality, Jocelyn is secretly the primary translator of the work. Jocelyn adores translating the texts but she knows she can only do the work by hiding behind her brother’s name. When a curate friend of Virgil’s offers her marriage and guarantees that she may continue to ‘help’ Virgil with his translations, she accepts. If she can’t have the only man she’s interested in, she’ll at least have her work.
Alex Cheverton is that man. He has been the estate manager at Farisdeen’s Edge Hall estate since Jocelyn was sixteen. Over the years, their friendship has started to change from brotherly/sisterly affection to something more, although neither has admitted this to the other. When hired by Farisdeen, a distant cousin, Alex agreed, as part of his employment contract, not to marry for ten years. He has (or had) every intention of honoring that requirement but now he is dreaming about Jocelyn and when they share a kiss, he wonders why she has agreed to a loveless engagement. When Alex asks Jocelyn about her upcoming marriage, she insists that she will have a marriage of convenience where she can continue her work, or never marry at all and continue her work in secret while being a paid companion. Then unexpectedly, Jocelyn’s betrothed jilts her for a bishop’s daughter and Jocelyn’s aunt invites her to London so that she can find another suitor. Jocelyn goes, intending to find a position as a lady’s companion once the current translation project is done.
While Alex and Jocelyn are both struggling with their romantic feelings (unbeknownst to each other), the Duke’s son and only heir dies. Alex is told that he is the only remaining heir (a fact that Farisdeen never shared with Alex and one that Alex never imagined). The Duke’s son had always been sickly and Farisdeen regrets not pushing his son into marrying and producing an heir as soon as he reached adulthood. Farisdeen will not make that mistake with Alex. He had been concerned about this eventuality (hence the clause that Alex could not marry for ten years) and now plans to find Alex an appropriate bride and get him producing heirs post haste! Alex is called to London to be groomed as the next Duke of Farisdeen. He has taken Jocelyn at her word – a marriage of convenience to another or being a paid companion – and so he agrees to search for a suitable bride. But he can still visit Jocelyn in London, right? They are good friends after all!
Alex and Jocelyn are both likable characters. Jocelyn is described as “unconventional, outspoken, endlessly curious about everything around her” – all true. She’s also an excellent horsewoman and brilliant. She would make a lousy duchess (as the role is traditionally defined) and she knows it. She doesn’t see how she and Alex can be together and she is terrified that her true role will be revealed and her brother and father ruined; her safest bet is to avoid marriage and continue to do her work in secret. Alex is a man of honor and determination. An early disappointment in love makes him question his ability to choose wisely for himself and so it seems, at first, like a good idea for the Duke to choose his future bride. Alex believes that Jocelyn is determined to follow through with her stated intent about marriage; he respects that choice and thinks that it is probably for the best.
Both characters do an excellent job of ignoring their underlying attraction and compatibility. This worked for a while, but then I just became frustrated when they wouldn’t have a really honest discussion. And I had to wonder why Jocelyn didn’t trust Alex enough to tell him her truth and trust that he would not only keep her secret but be proud and supportive of her talents. There was way too much repetition, as the same concerns were written about over and over, and I wanted to see more of what each character was really thinking. For example, there’s a scene at the British Museum where Alex comes across Jocelyn for the first time since he arrived in London. He sees her first, and I would have loved to have read about what went through his head as he stood there and watched her. I never felt that we got to see how the characters’ thoughts evolved after the first few chapters.
I was also surprised by the small amount of character development for the minor characters like the Duke and Jocelyn’s father and brother. Towards the end of the story, Jocelyn contemplates what she’ll do if “Virgil persisted in refusing to co-operate on further projects” – this was a surprise as we never hear of Virgil’s reluctance to work with Jocelyn at all. Both Virgil and her father stand to lose everything if Jocelyn’s true role is revealed but we never see them worried about this. The story is sweet and enjoyable just not as developed as I am used to from Ms. Justiss.
We are given a brief introduction to the heroes of future books in the series – both heirs to future titles, one who invests in railroad ventures (to the shame of his family) and one required to run and save a vast estate that he does not yet legally possess. Both seem interesting, so I will look forward to reading their stories. This one just fell a little short of the mark for me, hence the mild recommendation.