This is the first book that I have read by Jessica Benson and I stayed up half the night finishing it. "The Accidental Duchess" is an unusual historical romance (set in England in the early 1800's) in that it is told from the first-person point of view by Lady Gwen, a new bride who discovers that she unintentionally has married her long-time fiance's twin brother. The arch tone of the narration and Gwen's witty, frequently hilarious asides to the reader distinguish this book from others of the genre. The cast of characters is huge and amusingly detailed (and in some cases quite over the top!) The characters of the twin brothers, Bertie Milburn, a charming fribble and Gwen's original intended, and Harry, the paragon Earl of Cambourne, the elder twin by 15 minutes and Gwen's actual groom, are delightfully drawn. There is a hilarious scene in which Gwen's girlfriends list all Cambourne's "good points", "bad points" (none, of course!) and "traits as they relate to Milburn" that reads like a 19th century version of "Bridget Jones' Diary".
The character of Gwen is charming but a little bit more difficult to get a hold on (surprisingly, since the she is narrating the story.) She is described as biddable and obedient at the beginning of the book, but frankly she never seems to be so. She seems a bit ditsy at the start of the story, but by the end she is spouting off facts about the Corn Laws and taking control of her life.
The weak part of the book, in my opinion, was the reasoning behind continuing to keep Gwen in the dark about the real circumstances of her marriage (Hmmm, wasn't she was following her parents' wishes to marry Bertie in the first place..) and the explanation for Cambourne and Milburn masquerading as each other (Huh?!) Obviously, both of these circumstances were necessary for the plot to work and the book is so clever in other ways that the holes in the plot logic are forgiven.
In summary, this is a unique, very well-written romance with numerous laugh-out-loud lines (and scenes) and delightful, frequently quirky characters that remind me of some of Georgette Heyer's more broadly-drawn secondary characters (although with more bawdy mouths!) Highly recommended and a fun read!