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Review: Desperate Duchesses, Eloisa James

Book description via Amazon:

“Welcome to a world of reckless sensuality and glittering sophistication . . . of dangerously handsome gentlemen and young ladies longing to gain a title . . . of games played for high stakes, including—on occasion—a lady’s virtue.

A marquess’s sheltered only daughter, Lady Roberta St. Giles falls in love with a man she glimpses across a crowded ballroom: a duke, a game player of consummate skill, a notorious rakehell who shows no interest in marriage—until he lays eyes on Roberta.

Yet the Earl of Gryffyn knows too well that the price required to gain a coronet is often too high. Damon Reeve, the earl, is determined to protect the exquisite Roberta from chasing after the wrong destiny.

Can Damon entice her into a high-stakes game of his own, even if his heart is likely to be lost in the venture?”

This is an unusual romance in that there are a few different storylines going on at the same time.  The book starts with a description of a cartoon featuring Roberta and her ridiculous father, who is a bad poet and always in love with former actresses and prostitutes.  Roberta knows that if she’s going to get hitched, she has to get to London on her own and escape her father’s influence.  So she calls upon a distant relative she never knew she had, Gemma, the Duchess of Beaumont, and decides that she loves and will marry the Duke of Villiers.

I will admit that this had me rolling my eyes.  I didn’t realize that Roberta and the duke were not the main couple in this book and I hate love-at-first-sight romances.  I just don’t think it happens and besides that, it robs us of character development and the falling-in-love scenes.  I was happy when I figured out that Damon was the real object of Roberta’s affections, which is obvious even though it takes her far too long to discover for herself.

The real problem with this book was its focus.  Gemma takes up entirely too much attention.  Her chess games with the Duke of Villiers and her husband, the Duke of Beaumont, are virtually unnecessary to this book’s plot as a romance and even if it wasn’t a romance, I wouldn’t have found it particularly interesting.  The idea of a chess game played in bed is honestly not that exciting, even with the assumed second meaning.  I realize that this is part of a series and that this subplot between Gemma and the dukes will carry on, but I’m not sure I like that.  Gemma is also in some ways a more interesting character than her distant cousin Roberta, who is silly and can’t figure herself out in a way that seriously irritated me, so this really splits the book between too many characters and in the end makes it feel very disjointed.

Honestly, I didn’t really like this.  I’m disappointed because I recall loving one of James’s books ages ago.  I just didn’t like any of the characters.  For the most part, they’re all too depraved for me, and worse, the ones that aren’t are just silly and not given enough screen time.  I’ve got book number 2, which features one of the less depraved characters, so I’ll give it a try, but this is not a series to start with.  Plus, the cover is horrendous and I’m glad I borrowed it from the library.

Interesting footnote: Eloisa James teaches Shakespearean literature at Fordham.  Who knew?

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