Theodora Saxby and James Ryburn, the future Duke of Ashbrook, have been friends for their entire lives. When James proposes to his “Daisy”, as he affectionately calls Theo, hardly anyone can believe it. After all, Theo is no beauty, and everyone has expected him to aim somewhat higher. But Theo and James discover happiness almost immediately, when they realize that the friendly affection they’ve always harbored for one another does in fact run deeper. That’s until Theo hears the real reason for their marriage; that James’s duchy is deeply in debt, and in reality he needed her money to stay afloat. Dismayed and heartbroken, the couple separate for years. After he nearly loses his life in battle as a pirate, James returns to London, determined to persuade his transformed duchess to give him her heart once again.
I loved the way that Eloisa James immediately drew me into this book with the incredibly sweet way that Theo and James immediately fall for each other. It’s the perfect friendship turned love story, until she tears it apart. What better way to make you truly care for these two characters before their story really even begins? Even though I knew what was going to happen, in that James was going to leave Theo at her own request, I really didn’t want it to happen. I wanted them to continue being happy. But if that had occurred, we wouldn’t have had much of a book.
Unfortunately, I didn’t really like the rest of the book as much as I liked the sweet beginning. Theo’s transformation from ugly duckling to graceful swan takes place while her husband is far, far away, learning how to be a pirate. Her marriage, though it turns into a sham, is the perfect catalyst to free her from the usually dominating parents and allows her to exercise her rather obviously excellent taste in clothing and style. What I didn’t like was the relationship with the press, although it was certainly very realistic; it’s Theo who has driven off her husband, Theo who is at fault for everything; it made my heart break more for her, but I didn’t like it regardless. The couple spend the middle section of the book apart, then reunite for the last third.
As usual, Eloisa James delivers a very enjoyable, thoughtful romance. Though I still don’t think this is a match for the amazing Desperate Duchesses series, it also didn’t bother me the way that her last did. Not entirely my favorite, but The Ugly Duchess is a good read for a historical romance reader.
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