Friday, February 14, 2014

The Duchess War

The Duchess War by Courtney Milan

Because he is a duke, Robert Blaisdell, Duke of Claremont, everyone assumes he will be haughty and unconcerned about those beneath his station. In fact Robert is all too aware of his unearned status at the top of society and is dedicated to improving the lives of those his equals typically trample upon. He is called to a small manufacturing town to help put down the threat of unions, but Robert has no plans in aiding the corporations. His father had been a cold and uncaring man and Robert will do anything he can to avoid becoming one as well. The local army captain believes that shy spinster Minerva Lane is behind the onslaught of new union papers and doesn't believes she is up to no good behind her shy exterior. Minerva is hiding a secret, but it is certainly no desire to be a rabble rouser. Her tumultuous childhood, where her huckster father had her dressing up like a boy, only to abandon her when the ruse was discovered, has lead her fearful of attention of any kind. She lives with two "aunts" who graciously accepted her into their home, but knows that their financial generosity cannot last forever and that she will one day have to wed.

Robert knows that Minerva has nothing to do with the unions, but is equally sure that she is hiding something and he desperately wants to know what precisely that is. With the captain breathing down her neck and trying to prove that she is behind all the local problems, Minerva realizes she will have to find someone to marry in order to avoid having her past exposed to everyone. Using his investigation into her as an excuse to spend more time with her, Robert and Minerva work together on some of the projects her ladies Hygenic Society is sponsoring and he slowly begins to unravel the secrets of her past. When the army captain moves forward with his witch hunt against, Robert knows there is only one way to put her above any potential for prosecution or suspicion. Minerva hopes that, with time, she and her husband, can know each other well enough to fall in love and only when are their secrets are exposed will they both be able to find happiness with each other.

This book was very slow moving, and like all of Milan's book, relied on more descriptive prose than on actual dialogue, and while I do normally appreciate this style of writing since she does it so successfully, when used with two such already rather unhappy characters, it made the book darker than I prefer. Minerva's deep secrets were hinted at throughout the book, but the pieces did not really fall completely into place until near the end, and while it was intriguing at first, it became a little overdrawn for my taste, and I just wanted to know what had happened. Whenever anything has a buildup like that it is destined to be a disappointment because nothing can live up to those expectations. However, her upbringing helped explain so many of the confusing aspects of her personality and seemed very realistic for someone who had been through so much. I admired her resiliency and her journey toward become a woman full of confidence, and appreciated her loyalty towards her friend and her aunts.

Robert's dedication to helping the working man was admirable, but also rather a roundabout way of going about it, as he could simply have raised the wages of his own employees instead of causing trouble and endangering people. His background was shrouded in mystery, unless you had read the prequel in which case the foreshadowing seemed ridiculous. Minerva and Robert spent quite a lot of time together, however most of it was spent in serious discussions or other matters that didn't really do a great job of showing how they would get along on a daily basis. There was very little sex and almost no real chemistry or steam between the characters, which is a common theme in Milan's book and always something that irks me as I feel it would add some much needed levity.

Rating: I admired the characters, but did not really see how they would work together in a relationship, and found the book rather slow.

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