The Duke Is Mine
Eloisa James is not afraid to take chances, and she continues this trend in her fairytale variation of The Princess and the Pea with two unique characters: The hero, who has problems relating emotionally, and the heroine’s fiancé, who suffered an anoxic episode at birth.
Spending time with her fiancé makes it difficult for Olivia Lytton to view herself as the luckiest girl in England. True, she is going to be a duchess, but Rupert Forrest G. Blakemore – Marquess of Montsurrey, future Duke of Canterwick – doesn’t inspire thoughts of love. If being eighteen to Olivia’s twenty-three, a foot shorter, and a stone lighter with a “potato shaped nose and pendulous lower lip” isn’t dismal enough, Rupert is (in his father’s words) a buffle-headed idiot.
If only Olivia’s non-titled father had never gone to Eton, but he did and there he became best friends with the Duke of Canterwick, resulting in a blood oath that Mr. Lytton’s eldest daughter would marry the Duke’s eldest son. As the eldest of twins by only seven minutes, Olivia’s future is sealed. From her birth she has gone through duchification – the necessary comportment training to make her worthy of being a duchess – and since her parents worried about her untimely death (think heir and the spare), Georgiana, her twin sister, undergoes duchification too.
But Olivia’s parents despair over her – Olivia’s lack of consequence manifests itself in her love of food, bawdy humor, and sarcasm, and they bemoan the fact that Georgiana, who is everything that Olivia is not, was born second. Even though the elders praise Georgiana for her irreproachable and modest deportment, she is delegated to sitting with the dowagers because young men are not interested in straitlaced prudish girls, and at twenty-three is in her fifth season.
Now that Rupert is eighteen the Lytton family has expectations of an upcoming wedding. However, Rupert has taken the notion that before he marries, he needs to earn glory for the family name and plans to fight the French. Exceedingly stubborn, he refuses to bow to his father’s authority. So the Duke of Canterwick decides that Olivia and her sister will await Rupert’s return at the nearby Duke of Sconce’s estate under the supervision of Dowager Duchess of Sconce – Canterwick has convinced the dowager to evaluate Georgiana as a prospective bride for her son, Tarquin Brook-Chatfield, Duke of Sconce.
Tarquin (also known as Quin) is happy to let his mother chose his next wife. He chose his first, and that relationship was plagued by multiple problems, including infidelity, and ended in heartbreak. He has come to accept that he has no ability to fathom what people around him are feeling, leading him to surround himself with concrete, logical individuals. Olivia makes a stunning impression on him in their very first meeting. Not only is he instantly aroused by her luminous skin and voluptuous curves but she wears her feelings on her face and he can easily interpret them, leading him succumb to temptation and kiss her. The next morning he has his emotions under control, only needing to think of his past mistake. Georgiana is everything a duchess should be, but Quin feels a vast sense of disappointment upon hearing that Olivia is to be married.
Olivia, as the heroine, is perfect. I love her sense of joie de vivre. While she realizes that her size is not society’s ideal and at times is plagued by self-consciousness, mostly she has the innate ability to become the life of the party and pull people into her orbit of laughter and enjoyment. Quin’s enlightenment about feelings and emotions is very gratifying, as is his willingness to take a chance again, especially after the horrible repercussions of his first marriage.
The ethical dilemma of the heroine’s betrothal and her sister’s interest in Quin is handled adroitly, leaving me completely satisfied. My only qualm or misgiving is a plot device towards the end as Quin and Olivia face danger. It seems too over the top, and brought me out of the story.
While not my favorite fairytale story by Ms. James, there still is much to enjoy. I love the way she makes the stories uniquely hers, especially since she is one of the few authors who has the ability to constantly surprise me.