Top critical review
2 people found this helpful
on 6 April 2015
I read this book yesterday in an effort to catch up on the "Desperate Duchesses" books that I've missed by not having read the books in any semblance of order. I figured why not begin with the first one. The reviews were all over the place and after reading the book, I think I have my answer - at least in part. I have one word to describe this book - "tawdry." Definitions follow: "Tawdry: morally low or bad, cheap, shoddy, or tasteless, mean or nasty."
***This review will be a bit spoilerish so take your chances by continuing to read***
This storyline is initially a bit confusing because there are a couple of connected stories going on. We have our primary characters - Lady Roberta St. Giles and Damon Reeve, Earl of Gryffyn and then we also have Elijah and Jemma - Duke and Duchess of Beamont, whose background story is told in part in this book with their primary story being featured in This Duchess of Mine (Desperate Duchesses Book 5).
Roberta was raised by her kindly, very eccentric father - who was dubbed the "mad marquess" - probably due to his crazy poetry and the fact that his various mistresses lived with him in his home with his young daughter, Roberta. Tawdry! Roberta finally realizes she will never be married unless she gets out of her father's house. She goes to London to appeal to her something like 7th removed cousin, Jemma, who has recently returned to London from France.
Some background on Jemma and Elijah who were betrothed from their childhood: After they were married for a couple of months, she's madly in love with her handsome husband, who is mad for politics. One morning, Jemma decides to visit him in his office where she encounters him having sex with his mistress on his office desk, after having had sex with Jemma that morning before he left home - tawdry to the max!! The disillusioned young Jemma immediately heads off to Paris where she has apparently lived for the past 9 years, initially hoping Elijah would follow her, repent of his misdeeds and ask her to come home. He doesn't make a move to go visit her until three years have passed. How tawdry is that, Elijah!!
At some point, the heartsick Jemma began to make a really good show of having multiple lovers. Who could blame her? It's not clear how much of her reputation is real or for show. Tawdry behavior, but understandable. After nine years of separation with Elijah apparently visiting her occasionally, he passes out from overwork (bless his teeny tiny little heart). Jemma then returns to London where she and Elijah are trying to figure out how they can mend their relationship enough to get Elijah an heir before he passes from this mortal coil - even as he continues to work himself nearly to death in politics. Apparently his father died young and it's expected Elijah will also take the same route. While Jemma's living with Elijah in their London home, she commonly invites men, sometimes two at a time, to come to her room where she's in chemise and corset to help her decide how she will dress for the day. Supposedly this was a somewhat common practice during that period? Tawdry! Into this loosy goosy environment comes Roberta, hoping to have Jemma sponsor her so she will have the opportunity to be married.
The Duke of Villiers, with whom Roberta fancies herself in love, is featured as a larger than life character in this book. You may have read his story in A Duke of Her Own (Desperate Duchesses Book 6), which I've actually read a couple of times and enjoyed. His story deals with his decision to find a duchess to help him take care of his various illegitimate children - six in all. However, had I read this book first, I would have had a much different take on his overall character. In this book, it's rumored he has two - four illegitimate children, but it's never actually spelled out whether or not he's supporting any of them. He's a real cold fish. When he and Roberta become betrothed, he has a little eye-opener talk with Roberta about his expectations of married life wherein he makes it clear her virginity means nothing to him and their marriage will mean next to nothing, with the exception he does want whatever children they have to be his own. She will be able to do what she pleases with any other men as long as she uses protection and doesn't become pregnant by them. Of course he will continue to live in any way that he sees fit. Tawdry!!
The only really interesting parts of the book have to do with ongoing chess games between Jemma and Elijah and Jemma and Villiers. Then there's the actual romance between Roberta and Damon Reeve - Jemma's brother. Although Roberta has her sight set on Villiers, Damon has his set on Roberta. While Villiers and Jemma play chess, Damon and Roberta play their own games - mostly Damon teaching Roberta how to kiss and other stuff of interest. I must confess that Damon was the best part of the story. He's visiting Jemma in the Beaumont home with his own illegitimate son, Teddy, in tow. Apparently he's had the primary care of Teddy since he was a baby - now that is a scenario that easily captured my heart. I loved Damon even though he obviously had his own tawdry background which was all forgiven by me because in his own way, he literally exudes honorable attributes. He absolutely saved the storyline for me. The duel at the end between Damon and Villiers was off the hook!
All in all, I felt a bit low when I finished the book - not because of Roberta and Damon - but because of the lifestyle of the other main characters who were major players in the book. Their lifestyle left me feeling a bit... "tawdry."