Friday, January 11, 2013

The Ugly Duchess

The Ugly Duchess by Eloisa James

Theodora Saxby has been a ward of the Duke of Ashbrook since her father died and she has grown up with the heir to the dukedom, James Ryburn. The two are the best of friends and at times they are each other's only supporters as Theo is not as beautiful as other young women and the Duke's temper causes him to lash out at those around him. James is furious to discover that his father has embezzeled Theo's dowry and horrified at his proposed solution; James should marry Theo in order to keep anyone from finding out. For years, James has been noticing Theo as more than a friend, but he does not like to be forced into anything. Theo knows she is no charming and elegant debutante, but with her best friend by her side, she feels confident facing the ton. James, without fully acknowledging he is complying with his father's wishes, begins a flirtation with Theo that quickly escalates into more and when their indiscretion is discovered he makes a romantic proposal that has Theo believing in true love. The first week of their marriage is spent in a haze of lust and romance and both are looking forward to happy life together, when the Duke spills the beans. Theo is furious and hurt and banishes both men from her life and confused and hurt, James takes to the sea.

Over the next seven years, Theo becomes a fashionista, setting trends for people from Paris to London and quickly makes the Ashbrook estate incredibly profitable by setting up a ceramics factory and a weaving factory. James becomes a privateer, capturing pirate ships with the help of another lord who ran away from society, and slowly loses all vestiges of his former self. For a long time he believes Theo would be better off without him, but over time he can't help but remember what they shared and imagine what they could still have together. Theo has moved on and has even taken steps to declare him dead, when James waltzing back into London and wants to pick up the pieces exactly where they left off. Still hurting over the way he left her and the way she had been scrutinized over his abandonment, Theo wants nothing to do with him, but James can be very persuasive and she too remembers who wonderful it was between them. They both must forgive each for past hurts in order to move forward and create a future where both of them can love and be happy.

I loved the idea of a heroine who was plain and coming into her own and gaining confidence, but Theo did not really embody everything I wanted in this heroine. Her transformation was superficial at best and she hid herself behind a mask of extreme rigidity. James was an interesting young man but when he went off to become a pirate I just couldn't help rolling my eyes and praying for it to be over. I felt like the problem between them was not all that insurmountable and definitely did not warrant him disappearing for seven years. There were definitely two halves of this novel; the first half of them falling in love and starting a happy marriage and then having their hopes crashed, and the second part about them becoming cold and unsympathetic people and then, very quickly, falling back in love with each other supposedly. And the ending was completely ridiculous: I believe it took them two days to forgive each other and begin a happy life together again. Just like that they were back in love right where they had left off after seven years of becoming very different people and it was just plain unbelievable.

The first half of the book was very enjoyable in itself, with the nice little bit of angst accompanying his feeling guilty about misleading Theo, and two people getting to know each other in a new way and falling in love. There was some very hot sex in this half and it was obviously a very important part of their relationship and the scene where she discovers his "betrayal" was written so well. Her emotions were coming off the page and my heart broke for what she was going through and I admired her strength and courage in the face of such heartache. The second half of the book contained some very major problems for me, not least that about 80 pages of the novel was spent with them completely separated from each other and engaging in activities that were illegal and dangerous on his part, and superfluous and boring on hers. I know I was supposed to understand that they were better compliments for each other now, but I was just so horrified at the speed at which everything was accomplished I couldn't really wrap my head around anything else.

Rating: A very fast read and a remarkable first half but the second half went off the deep end and I just could not bring myself to like anything that happened.

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