The Shy Duchess
In Amanda McCabe’s The Shy Duchess, Lady Emily Carroll is expected to marry well because her parents have run out of money. Naturally, Emily is completely uninterested in social events because she doesn’t waste time on frivolities. So she hurries off during a ball and this happens :
Emily lost her footing on the bottom step. Her stomach lurched as her feet slid out from under her, ripping her hem and pitching her towards the cold stone floor.
But Nicholas, the Duke of Manning, catches her, and they settle down for a chat. Emily is traumatized after an incident where a young man asked her to walk with him in private, and used the opportunity to kiss her. She fled in tears, and ever since then, she’s been terrified of letting her guard down. But she feels safe with Nicholas.
For his part, Nicholas Will Never Love Again because he was secretly married once and his beloved wife died in childbirth. He’s drawn to Emily because she’s Not Like Other Girls who are interested in eligible men. This is because Emily is too busy secretly teaching ex-prostitutes to become ladies’ maids. But Nicholas keeps worrying because he can’t put another woman through childbirth. Prediction : Blissful baby-logue to reassure him. Update : As I thought.
For some reason, Emily believes Nicholas is a shallow hedonist until he saves the life of some random child who appears in the story for that purpose (when Emily tries to run to the child, her skirt hem wrapped around her ankles and tripped her). She therefore decides to meet Nicholas at a masked ball, reasoning that if he doesn’t recognize her, he’ll be his real self. This leads to her drinking too much and wandering off alone, but Nicholas saves her from yet another headlong tumble. Emily is too passive to do anything about her attraction to him, though, so her sister-in-law manipulates them into a private meeting. I expected them to be caught in an embrace so they would have to marry, and of course it happened, but here’s the surprising part:
She pressed herself even closer to him, wanting to be ever nearer and nearer. Wanting she knew not what. But her sudden movement sent him off balance, and he stumbled backward into the bank of potted palms.
Emily landed hard atop him […]
Anyway, they marry, but Nicholas is determined not to have children. I predicted that this would never lead to him using precautions during sex, and I was right. Speaking of which, Emily’s mother tells her intimacy is painful, leaving Emily petrified. But this potential conflict leads nowhere, because after the first time, she’s wildly orgasmic. As for Nicholas’s first wife, he tells Emily about her, and she’s understanding, so one more problem is quickly disposed of.
Nicholas and Emily then retire to his country estate where they chat, dine, and have lots of unprotected sex, while the ex-prostitutes vanish from the pages. At least, until a former suitor of Emily’s re-enters the story because nothing much was happening otherwise. Neither wealthy nor titled, the former suitor never stood a chance of competing with the hero, so he settles for the antagonist role by blackmailing Emily over the ex-prostitutes. Of course she obediently pays up and Nicholas has to save her yet again.
To cut a long review short, there’s nothing new going for this story. Emily is the usual clumsy heroine, with a heart-shaped face and emerald eyes, while Nicholas has the requisite dimple. The ex-prostitutes are props to show the heroine’s noblesse oblige towards the lower classes. What’s really disappointing about this book, though, is the lost potential. I read it because of its title, thinking that it would be difficult for a duchess to be shy, what with all her duties managing a household and participating in social events. If the story had focused on a heroine overcoming a crippling flaw, with the hero’s help, it could have been interesting.
But Emily’s shyness is just like her habit of toppling over like a ninepin; it never causes real problems, because she doesn’t have to deal with any situations where shyness could be an issue. And Nicholas is constantly and completely supportive; he finds her wonderful and never loses an opportunity to assure her of this. Which is very sweet, but all I’ll remember of The Shy Duchess is its bland placidity. The best thing the book has going for it is its cover, so I wish I’d admired that and read something else.
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I'm Marian, originally from Sri Lanka but grew up in the United Arab Emirates, studied in Georgia and Texas, ended up in Toronto. When I'm not at my job as a medical laboratory technologist, I read, write, do calligraphy, and grow vegetables in the back yard.